Patrol Ministries under presbytery oversight

Dennis CousensRowena harrisFrontier Services Great Outback BBQResponsibility for the operation of two former Frontier Services patrol ministries based in the presbyteries of Gippsland and Tasmania has moved to the presbyteries, with support from the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

Rev Denis Cousens will remain as the Glamorgan-Midlands Patrol minister and Rev Rowena Harris will take charge of the High Country Patrol Ministry, having previously ministered in the region.

The Snowy River Patrol Ministry, in Victoria, has not received funding from Frontier Services and the synod is considering alternative ministry options for the area it previously covered.

Frontier Services has also indicated that it expects to have funding available next financial year to allow for the resumption of the West Coast Patrol, covering Tasmania’s far North-West and West Coasts, which has been vacant since Rev Gay Loftus concluded her placement in April last year.

The new arrangements came into effect on 1 January. It followed a decision by the Assembly Standing Committee in March last year for Frontier Services to transfer the oversight and management of patrol ministers to synods and presbyteries.

In 2013, Frontier Services began experiencing severe financial difficulties maintaining its commitment to aged care. These difficulties were attributed to an increased commitment to provide aged care services in remote Australia, and were described by assembly secretary Terence Corkin as “increasingly complex and financially risky operations” in his report to last year’s Assembly meeting in Perth.

A series of reviews, followed by organisational restructuring, saw Frontier Services transfer its remote area aged care facilities and community services to other providers by the end of 2015. Frontier Services remains focused on the provision of pastoral and outreach services throughout remote Australia. Significantly, this heralds an historic collaborative relationship with all Uniting Church synods. In this partnership model Frontier Services continues to fundraise to provision all patrol ministries, whereas the management and administration of individual patrols rests with the synod where they are located.

In outreach, Frontier Services continues to operate its popular volunteer program Outback Links, a national program with over 1,500 volunteers assisting people in remote areas in many helping capacities. Outback Links has recently forged a partnership with QANTAS and initiated group trips of tradespeople to help drought-distressed communities.

Associate general secretary Isabel Thomas Dobson said the patrols were vital ministries which the Vic/Tas synod wanted to see continue. Without the new arrangements being put in place they would have ceased to operate.

“The patrols certainly do a great job and take the church to places where it is not possible for them to have a full-time minister of their own,” she said.

Ms Thomas Dobson did not rule out the possibility of further patrols being established in the synod in the future, depending on need and available funding.

Grahame Ryan is the acting director of Frontier Services. He said that while the transition was initially a shock for people working with Frontier Services, it puts the ministry on a more sustainable footing.

In an editorial in Frontier News in November last year, Mr Ryan told readers that the example of Rev John Flynn, founder of Frontier Services predecessor Australian Inland Mission, continues to be relevant today.

Mr Ryan wrote about the personal letters, diary entries and correspondence donated to the national library in 1964 by John Flynn’s wife, Jean. He said that within the 22 boxes of papers it is evident that Flynn believed in continuous improvement and change.

“The service he envisaged was to be a framework within which outback communities might structure and coordinate their own canopy of safety,” Mr Ryan wrote.

“It was the right strategy for the people and places and needs of the time … but those circumstances and those communities have changed, and continue to do so with increasing speed.”

In his report to the Presbyterian Assembly in 1912, Flynn’s vision was to establish a “mantle of safety” which would allow people to build sustainable communities despite the hardships of outback life.

Given a pressing need for adequate medical services, Flynn initially focused on setting up nursing posts and hospitals, with sisters travelling by camel, horse, rail and motor tricycle.

The first AIM ‘Patrol Padres’ were dispatched in 1913 to provide pastoral care and counselling services to people on isolated properties, mine sites and road gangs.

Mr Ryan said that Flynn believed in continuous improvement. “The next idea, the next innovation … always canvassing the next issue or problem that needed to be addressed and finding new ways to address them.”

In 1928 Flynn achieved a dream of using aircraft to conquer the vast outback distances with the establishment of the AIM Aerial Medical Service, which later became The Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Mr Ryan said it was this spirit of innovation that continues to inspire staff and volunteers at Frontier Services today.

“Continuous improvement has the capacity to concentrate our faith, thoughts, words and actions towards creating a better and brighter future, by encouraging us to focus on those things we excel at … raising greater support for and national awareness of the importance of the Patrol Ministry tradition.”

You can read more about the work of Frontier Services in our interviews with patrol ministers Rev Dennis Cousens and Rev Rowena Harris.

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