A small group of church and community members gathered on the steps of Richmond Uniting Church on Wednesday evening to remember those who have passed away from overdose, suicide and illness.
Service on the Steps was held on All Saints Day, a day to honour lost loved ones.
The bereaved lit candles on the steps of the church in memory of family and friends while others prayed and sang hymns.
Richmond Uniting Church minister Rev Dr Sally Douglas said the service was an invitation to all members of the community, particularly those who do not normally attend church.
“One thing we’re really conscious of is that many people don’t really connect to church but are really longing for a ritual,” Dr Douglas said.
“I think the church has incredible resources that we often don’t think to offer to the wider community.
“So we offered this service to those who might want to pop by for a few minutes to light a candle for someone they loved who has died through overdose, suicide, accident or illness.
“They may not feel like going to a church, but they might want to stop and light a candle.”
During the service, an ambulance sped pass the church, a reminder of the countless lives that are affected by death and grief every day.
Dr Douglas said society is often uncomfortable talking about mortality but All Saints Day offers hope that life is changed, not ended, through death.
“All Saints Day is an ancient tradition about honouring the saints who have died out of this heart conviction that no one is lost, that death is not the end of life but marks a new beginning with our relationship with God,” she said.
Moderator Rev Sharon Hollis, who attended the service, said society often judges those who have died through overdose or suicide. The service was an opportunity to honour their lives and remember that they are precious in the eyes of God.
“I really valued the invitation from Sally that this was a place to particularly remember those people; that’s important to me personally, having had a partner die from suicide,” Ms Hollis said.
“It’s also important to me that we make the church places where people who are often marginalised, even in death, are remembered with dignity and hope.
“I’ve also come because I see this as a small way that this local community is trying to support the Synod proposal around medically supervised injecting centres.”
In September, the Synod adopted a proposal put forth by Dr Douglas and Uniting VIC.TAS in support of a medically supervised injecting centre in Victoria.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced this week that the state government would commence a two-year trial of a medically supervised injecting centre in North Richmond.
There were 190 heroin-related deaths in Victoria in 2016, the highest number since the 1990s. In the Richmond area alone, there have been at least 30 reported deaths from overdose in the past twelve months.
The injecting centre – the first in Victoria – will be housed at the North Richmond Community Health Centre on Lennox Street.
Dr Douglas welcomed the government’s announcement and said the centre will have an immediate impact on the community.
“People in our congregation and in the wider community are finding fellow people who are overdosed on the streets,” she said.
“That’s just a horrible thing – for the people who are dying, their families, their friends and those residents who are finding those people.
“So people are really concerned and understand that this is an issue that needs a response of compassion.”