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Rev Dr Linda Hamill. Photo: Supplied

Preaching through silence during disasters

St Stephen’s Uniting Church in Toowoomba Minister Rev Dr Linda Hamill has recently completed a Doctorate of Ministry in Biblical Preaching from Luther Seminary, St Paul Minnesota, USA, with a focus on preaching after disaster and disaster-related ministry. James O’Callaghan spoke to Linda about her work.

It seems like every week there is a new disaster that has impacted our communities. Whether that is storms, floods, drought, fires or pandemics like COVID-19.

Rev Linda Hamill has spent recent years researching ministry within disaster situations and came to a realisation that while there are lots of resources for worship, there was a lack of resources for preaching.

“I’m not sure ministers are very good at understanding that by seeing horrific scenes and speaking to people who have been affected by disasters that they are being impacted in the same way,” says Linda.

“They become affected people. Research suggests that ministry agents are prone to burnout within two years after a disaster. So, we need to emphasis peer support and provide resources to local ministers so that they don’t become burnout. This research was undertaken to provide another resource.”

As part of Linda’s thesis, she developed a template, building on Four Pages Of The Sermon by Paul Scott Wilson with an emphasis on silence.

“In the disaster setting, people need to express their own narrative but they also need to feel God’s presence,” explains Linda. “This is particularly prevalent immediately after a disaster when people want to make sense of their narratives and they want reassurance that God is there.

“In my research, I proposed two periods of silence during the sermon, one to help people tell God of their experiences, the other to help them feel God’s presence.”

Linda tested the sermon with congregations across Queensland including a First People’s congregation and the National Disaster Recovery chaplaincy group where her work was received positively.

When asked if Linda thought her work could transition into a COVID-19 environment, Linda was positive.

“With respect to COVID-19, we are still seeing cases so are not yet out of the disaster phase.”

“I think my tool will be helpful for preachers as sometimes, particularly when we have a prolonged disaster like this one, they might not know what to say or don’t have any answers. So, I would encourage them to use silence and let people speak to God themselves.”

Presbytery Minister for the Downs Presbytery Rev Yvonne Mcrostie said that they were so blessed to have Linda’s experience to equip and encourage our communities.

“As a part of the Downs Presbytery, which has seen its fair share of disasters recently, Linda is hoping to support lay preachers and ministry agents to be effective in the sharing of the gospel message by sharing her research,” says Yvonne.

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