Mel’s mission statement

Mel Perkins offers invaluable guidance for congregations on preparing for natural disaster.

By Andrew Humphries

In the summer of 2019-20, Australians watched on in horror as large parts of the country were destroyed by fire.

Images which showed people trapped on the beach at Mallacoota with nowhere to go made their way around the world.

Four years later, some sense of normality might have returned to Mallacoota but, like so many other towns impacted by bushfire, or any other natural disaster, the scars still run deep.

We often get very little warning of a natural weather event, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be as fully prepared as possible for what lies ahead when one eventuates.

In her role as Lay Leadership Co-ordinator within the equipping Leadership for Mission unit, Mel Perkins believes helping congregations, and communities, prepare for and deal with the aftermath of disaster is some of the most important work she does.

It’s vitally important, says Mel, that Uniting Church congregations everywhere undertake disaster preparation training and, alongside National Disaster Recovery Officer, Rev Dr Stephen Robinson, she is giving them the tools to make the task of dealing with a serious weather event a little bit easier.

The work being done by Mel and Stephen is also crucial in showing congregations how to navigate the long and slow road to recovery after a natural disaster.

The two-part training course taught by Stephen offers practical and achievable ideas for before, during and after disasters, and can be conducted online or in person, according to a congregation’s needs.

“Stephen did his PhD on disasters and has done further study in this area, and heads up the disaster management team within the NSW-ACT Synod,” Mel says.

“The training he has developed can be utilised as workshops, for individuals and congregations, to help them be prepared for disasters.

“It takes congregations through a basic understanding that we are always in a disaster cycle, and how important it is that when a disaster strikes we don’t get in the way of those people who have an immediate job to do.

“When a disaster happens there are things that need to happen around governance, and emergency services and chaplains need to come in, but it’s important we don’t get in the way and try and set up our church as some form of competition in all of this.

“During the training workshops we talk to people about how important it is to prepare your congregation ahead of a natural disaster, and what that means, and how to be a help, not a hindrance in your community after a disaster has occurred.

“We then talk about what happens when everyone has left, and how to tackle the road to recovery that awaits people after a disaster.”

A two-part training course offers congregations helpful advice for dealing with natural disasters like bushfires.

Leading disaster preparation training is just one of the many hats Mel wears as Lay Leadership Development Co-ordinator, a role she describes as truly multi-dimensional.

“It’s such a big area and so much links to something else, but basically anyone in a position of lay leadership within the Uniting Church falls in my basket,” she says.

“That can be anyone from Ministry of Pastor to Ministry of Lay Preacher, the two specified ministries in lay leadership, through to the person working in the church office, or church councillors and elders.

“It also involves faith development and teaching around governance, but really it’s anything that falls within the scope of lay leadership, and helps an individual to grow in their congregation or faith community.”

Lay preacher candidates can undertake biblical and theological study either through training approved by the Uniting Church Assembly, or through Pilgrim Theological College.

People considering a Ministry of Pastor role are expected to display the core competencies of working within the doctrine, ethos and polity of the Uniting Church, understanding the Code of Ethics for Ministers, and displaying general competencies around community development, education, evangelism, leadership, pastoral care, organisation and administration, and worship and preaching.

For those considering ministry, perhaps the most important time spent will be during the period of discernment each candidate is encouraged to undertake.

During this period, candidates are given the full resources of the Uniting Church as they discern whether ministry is, in fact, the path they wish to travel.

“It’s usually a minimum of a year in which the person discerns what God’s call is for them in their life,” Mel says.

“It’s an opportunity to take some time out with a mentor who is provided by the Church, with a real degree of flexibility.”

Mel stresses that no one should go into discernment with preconceived ideas around what the end result might be.

“It might mean ordained ministry, or lay ministry, but it also might mean the person goes off and becomes a nurse, a doctor or a teacher,” she says.

“And that’s the very nature of discernment, that at the end of it hopefully the person has discerned where their future lies.”

Whatever their decision, Mel and the full support of the Uniting Church will be with them every step of the way.

Mel can be contacted on 03 93408843 or by email at mel.perkins@victas.uca.org.au

A wealth of material on faith development, governance, and pastoral care is also available here

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