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Uniting Church responds to Victorian bushfire tragedy

Moderator of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania has today expressed deep sadness and grief over the tragic Victorian bushfires.

Rev Jason Kioa said alongside acts of untold bravery and great generosity Victorians had witnessed the horror and pain of death, injury, loss of homes and cherished items.

Mr Kioa said even at this early stage he was aware of some Uniting Church people caught up in this tragedy in the worst possible way.

Communications Director for the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Kim Cain said at least one Uniting Church member – an elder at Kinglake – had died in the fires and many Uniting Church families had lost their homes and farms.

One small Uniting Church and one Uniting Church community centre have been destroyed.

Mr Kioa said already Ministers and members of the Uniting Church have offered care to those affected.

“This has been the care that comes quietly and genuinely. I am sure we are all thankful in knowing that such support is being offered right now.

The Moderator will establish a register of Ministers and counsellors who will be available for counselling support as part of the long term recovery program and Victorian congregations have been encouraged to keep their churches open for prayer and reflection.

Mr Kioa said it is still too early to make final decisions about how the church will respond at this time of great need

At this stage, the church does not require furniture or clothing.

“Most of our work will be done over a longer period and in the aftermath of the tragedy,” he said.

“In a touching story of genuine response, one of our UnitingCare mobile kindergartens has been sent to one of the community relief stations, just so the children caught up in these horrific events can have somewhere to play, relax and begin to work through the devastation that has befallen them.”

President of Uniting Church in Australia Rev Gregor Henderson said the Uniting Church joins with all Australians in mourning the terrible loss of life from the Victorian bushfires.

“The horror of scores of lives lost, hundreds of homes destroyed and communities devastated, touches all of us very deeply,” he said.

“We thought it was impossible for the disasters of Ash Wednesday 1983 and Black Friday 1939 to be outstripped, but these 2009 fires, dreadfully, have done so.

“On behalf of the Uniting Church I extend our sympathy and care to the thousands of victims – to the families of those killed, to the injured in hospitals, to those who’ve lost their homes and their lives’ possessions, to the people of the devastated communities.”

Mr Henderson also honoured the courageous efforts of the Country Fire Authority, the paramedics, doctors and hospital staff, the police and the State Emergency Services, and the countless number of volunteers who have fought the fires and cared for the victims.

The Uniting Church today released $50,000 from its National Disaster Fund to enable the church in Victoria to provide for immediate emergency relief, and is launching a national appeal for funds which will be used by the church for both emergency relief and the longer-term pastoral care and rehabilitation for families in need.

Mr Henderson invited people to give generously to the appeal.

All congregations of the Uniting Church will be asked to hold retiring offerings in the next few weeks, and individuals can give tax-deductible donations directly to the appeal.

Mr Henderson also invited people to pray for all who are suffering so deeply and for all who are continuing to fight the fires and to care for the victims.

“We know that the God of love revealed to us in Jesus Christ is reaching out to embrace all who are suffering with his love and peace.

“We pray that no more bushfires will break out this summer season, that the summer heat and the hot winds will subside, and that recovery by families and communities will happen as quickly as possible.”

There have also been emails from around the world offering prayers and support including one from Bishop Paul Verryn who wrote on behalf of the Central District of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa to express their horror at the devastating fires.

“We ask that you pass our condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives,” Bishop Verryn said.

“We are particularly conscious of those whose entire livelihood has been destroyed in the fire and those who find themselves traumatised and overwhelmed by the complete destruction of their livelihood.

“Particularly our concern is that plans can be devised that ensure a holistic and long term recovery for the displaced and broken. We will pray for the church as it engages workers who will listen to stories of pain and loss.”

Those who want to make immediate money donations can contact the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania on 1800 060 543 or visit the website http://victas.unitingcare.org.au/outreach-justice/unitingcare/victorian-bushfire-appeal.