‘How’s the new job?’ asked my Narooma neighbour when I arrived back for a visit after my first month in Canberra. I looked at him blankly. In the seconds that followed, the last two months of my life flashed before my eyes…
In the weeks before my consecration, Narooma, like so much of the coast, had been besieged by bushfires. My street had been evacuated twice. From the morning of New Years’ Eve till the 15th of February when I drove up Clyde Mountain with Jay to take up residence in Canberra, I had been chaplain at the evacuation centre in Narooma. In the first 48 hours of its opening, we registered more than 4,500 evacuees. The role of a chaplain is all consuming in a time of disaster. The relentless combination of supporting evacuees, visiting those who had lost their homes and caring for fragile and shattered people in the church and community, was exhausting.
The week before we moved, I had a lovely phone call from our Metropolitan Archbishop, wishing me well for my coming consecration, and asking me how my reflection and preparation were going for this significant event. I’m afraid I was rather blunt … ‘I’ve barely had time to think about it’, I answered, though I did then try to explain.
Driving up the mountain on the evening of the 15th of February, I experienced mixed feelings – a sense of overwhelming relief at escaping the war zone and a sense of anticipation for the new role ahead.
So how is the new job?
It’s been full on. I spent the first week as Vicar General, while Bishop Mark took a well-earned break. Thankfully there were no dramas. During that week I did battle daily with technology, trying to get my Mac laptop to sync with the office system. I learned how to find the office from our house in Deakin without a GPS in the car; I learned my arms are too short to easily access the parking lot through the boom gate; I learned to access the office with a magic card and to drive the coffee machine; I located the lunch place across the square and the coffee shop downstairs; I was introduced to the level 4 staff, the meeting schedule and found the files I needed so I could tackle the list of things to do.
In the third week, I attended a conference in Newcastle for Australia’s women bishops (there are now seven of us) which was brilliant, followed immediately by the National Bishops’ Conference, held in Sydney. I’ve never seen so many bishops before in one place!
What a delight it was to meet the other women bishops. Such a mix of deep spirituality, wisdom, dedication and humour, with just the right amount cynicism.
Since returning from the conference, life has changed dramatically for all of us as we have faced the rising spectre of the Covid-19 virus. Ministry and the corporate expression of our faith has taken a completely new direction. The bishop’s office has focused on supporting parishes as we have all had to adjust to the constantly changing directives and find new ways to do things. It has been inspiring to talk to the clergy and people in the diocese and discover the new and creative ways emerging which enable us stay in touch with and care for one another.
The biggest problem at the moment of course, is finding toilet paper …
While back Narooma for a visit, I took advantage of the ‘seniors shopping hour’ from 7.00 am till 8.00 am. Given it was still DARK at 7.00 am, I figured I may be able to do a decent shop. After getting past the serious looking security guard who wanted to see evidence of my senior years (how rude), I was admitted to Woollies. I shouldn’t have bothered. It was a zoo! A person couldn’t stay 1.5 metres from another person if they wanted to. Plus there was no toilet paper. No doubt the latest directives will change all that. I look forward to being able to traverse the aisles without bumping into other trollies.
We are all navigating uncharted waters as we settle into a new way of life, at least for the foreseeable future. As we adapt and adjust to our changing circumstances let us pray for one other and for those who are struggling most through this time. May we continue to put our trust in the God who holds the future in his hands, and who loves us so much he gave his Son for us. This Easter will be different for us all – but the truths we celebrate are unchanging.
The Lord be with you.