“We are living in a time of great trial and anguish for many people in Queensland, and other parts of Australia, due to destructive bushfires”, writes the Archbishop of Brisbane, Phillip Aspinall.
“People have lost their lives and homes and others face anxious times during evacuation orders. Human livelihoods are at risk and there are inevitable stock losses, plus injury and death to wildlife with which we share the environment. Crucial infrastructure is also damaged, leading to disruption of water supply and other essential services.
“The immediate need is to meet the challenges presented by catastrophic fires in what could be a very long bushfire season, including through prayer and practical support.”
As the wildfires have burned across Australia, local Anglicans have been at the forefront of the response. Parishes are providing care and support; they are praying and being good neighbours. Across the country, Anglicare – Australia’s national network of Anglican community service agencies – has led local responses, their Disaster Recovery volunteers serving alongside other agencies and emergency services at evacuation centres around New South Wales (NSW) and Australian Capital Territory (ACT). One team, from Bateman’s Bay Evacuation Centre, has been caring for 2500 evacuees.
Anglicare is also providing other forms of urgently needed practical help. Anglicare South Australia report “our ‘mobile wardrobe’ vans are out in bushfire affected areas. Brand new shirts, shorts, pants, dresses, shoes, socks and undies — you name it! We source end-of-season stock from fashion retailers and get it to the people who need it most (as opposed to landfill).” They need support to fuel and staff the vans.
Anglicare in NSW west, NSW south and ACT, report that their areas have been deeply impacted by the fires and they are advising that financial donations, rather than material goods such as blankets and clothing, are the best way to support those affected by the devastating NSW bushfires at this point. However, they are collecting non-perishable food, toiletries and baby supplies to meet the urgent needs of displaced people and report, “the Eurobodalla Homelessness Support Service (EHSS) in Moruya is helping the community with food hampers to help reduce the pressure caused by rising food, rent and fuel prices…. This assistance has also included toiletries, petrol and dignity bags.
“The start of the summer season has seen unprecedented fire warnings and evacuations in the area that have impacted on seasonal jobs and have left people displaced. Loss of income resulting in rental arrears leaving little opportunity for families to buy staple food items. Our hampers assist those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including families and individuals on low income and disability pensions, the elderly and young particularly vulnerable at this time of year. To date the EHSS has assisted families with nearly 150 hampers.”
Other Anglican agencies in Australia are also supporting the response with appeals and practical help to communities.
The Anglican Primate of Australia, Archbishop Philip Freier has called on Christians to pray for affected communities and suggests a number of actions individuals and parishes can take:
- Immediate action: Donate to those providing immediate response to bushfire victims.
- Longer-term action: Train as an Emergency Ministries Chaplain to assist with future emergencies.
- Implement further sustainability initiatives in your church or agency: such as making use of the Green Loan Scheme to upgrade lights to sustainable LED lights or to install solar panels.
Please see below for suggested prayers.
How bad have the bushfires been?
As Anglicare indicate above, this bushfire season has been especially severe. It started earlier – and is worse – than usual due to the extreme heat and dryness of 2019, which itself came on top of the prolonged drought that has affected many areas for several years.
Worst affected have been New South Wales and Victoria, but the fires have affected the rest of the country too, particularly South Australia and Queensland, but even Tasmania.
An estimated 10 million hectares of bush, forest and parks across Australia has burnt, destroying ancient forest and wildlife. There is concern that entire species of animal and plant life may have been wiped out. It has been estimated that more than a billion animals have been killed.
The scale is staggering: the 10 million hectares burnt so far is significantly more than the total of all other fires around the globe during 2019 (1.87 million hectares in USA, 1.6 million in Indonesia and 0.9 in Brazil).
The sheer number and extent of the fires have also put lives and property at risk. Over the holiday period, particularly high temperatures and winds led to significant evacuations to prevent loss of life. To date, 28 people have been killed including 4 firefighters. More than 2,400 homes are estimated to have been destroyed, including countless farms.
Smoke from the fires has blanketed the skies and caused significant air pollution. Major cities such as Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Melbourne have been affected, with some experiencing the worst air quality ever in mid-December. Recent cooler weather and rains have reduced the number of fires. Smoke clouds now drift across the Pacific, visible from space.
Climate change is believed to have contributed to the increased severity of the bushfire season, from the high temperatures and reduced rainfall that has affected the country.
Standing in solidarity
The Anglican Alliance stands in solidarity and prayer with all affected by the catastrophic fires and all churches and agencies seeking to respond.
Prayers are provided below.
It is also vital that we take whatever action we can to tackle climate change, in order to reduce the incidence of such events in the coming years. As Sir David Attenborough warned in a BBC interview on 16th January, “The moment of crisis has come… we have been putting things off for year after year. As I speak, south east Australia is on fire. Why? Because the temperatures of the Earth are increasing”.
Archbishop Philip Freier invites us to use this prayer and reproduce it in social media and pew-sheets/bulletins. It was written by Dean Andreas Loewe:
Almighty God and heavenly Father, we pray for this world that you love so much
that you sent your Son Jesus to be born as the child of Bethlehem:
We pray for the safety of those sheltering from fires and those fighting fires,
for livestock, native animals, paddocks, bushlands and sacred places.
We remember our own loved ones and those who are dear to us facing this crisis.
We pray for those tending to the injured, the frightened and the broken-hearted,
for emergency services, emergency broadcasters, chaplains and counsellors.
We ask for your forgiveness for our own failures in safeguarding your good creation,
and pray for political and community leaders, and all those responding
to the current crisis in our nation.
Above all, we pray for the peace that passes all understanding,
in our nation and state, in our homes and in our hearts.
This we ask in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for people and all creation impacted by wildfires in Australia
God of Creation, we live in a world where both beauty and danger surround us.
Receive our prayers for those impacted by, and living in fear of, the wildfires in Australia:
for all who cannot find adequate food, safety, or shelter…
…for all who have lost their homes, churches, community centres, and workplaces
…for all your glorious natural Creation that has been destroyed and is in harm’s way
…for all things and places that are in need of healing.
We pray and ask that you help heal the pain of all affected.
Strengthen with your presence all who are numb with fear and distress. Guide those who anxiously search or wait for loved ones. Be near those who are grieving, and bless them with your peace.
In the midst of disaster we give thanks for moments of generosity and human-kindness.
Grant tenderness, strength, and wisdom…
…to doctors and nurses, police and military, fire-fighters and emergency responders;
…to the wildlife conservationists and stewards of the earth;
…to all who minister to human need in our time of distress.
We gather these prayers with the assurance that you already know our needs, and are always with us. Amen
Prayer adapted from that in the United Church of Canada’s Service of Prayer Following a Natural Disaster.