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On 2nd September Chaplain (Flight Lieutenant) Emma Street received a certificate from the Director General Chaplaincy – Air Force, Mark Willis, in recognition of outstanding ministry in 2020, particularly during Operation Bushfire Assist and in the early months of the COVID pandemic. Emma shares this story of her experiences this year.

In an ordinary week I work two days as an Air Force chaplain alongside my role as Priest-in-Charge at St Barnabas Charnwood. That was the plan when I joined as a Reserve in July 2019. However, I am sure all would agree 2020 has not been an ordinary year. This year has involved more adventures than a new chaplain in the Defence force should ordinarily expect.

I have no Defence work over the Christmas season, which fits well with parish celebrations. It also meant that I could travel to Cooma in early January, with the blessing of parish, to join the Bushfire Evacuation Centre as a chaplain with the NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network (DRCN).

Returning to Canberra, I was just finishing a shift at the Dickson Bushfire Relief Centre when I was called to go to the HMAS Harman Bushfire Evacuee Reception Centre, where the Defence Force were hosting evacuees from the NSW South Coast. I was there for ten days, receiving people of all ages, and their pets; helping them to settle in and feel safe and secure on a Navy Base while receiving the support they needed during that difficult time.

From Harman I returned to the Cooma area with the Air Force to provide pastoral support at the C-130 tanker crash site. One can’t really describe such a confronting experience. I think this was particularly so for me because the fire-front was still active, and I have a close personal connection with the area from ministry in the Cooma parish.

Only the day after we returned, the Monaro highway was closed as fire moved through the Bredbo area. In the midst of that terrible sadness it was also a personal highlight of the summer to meet members of the Numeralla RFS. That certainly inspired me to feel a bit braver.

After a bit of rest and reconnection with my parish, my final contribution to the Bushfire effort was a week at the Bateman’s Bay Bushfire Recovery Centre as a DRCN chaplain.

In March I started the initial chaplain course at the Defence Force Chaplain’s College in Canberra. I had wondered how to juggle the course with Lent and Holy Week preparations, especially after being away in January. This was unfortunately resolved with the arrival of COVID-19 cancelling the course and our Easter services. Undaunted, the parish moved on to Zoom.

Once again, I found myself working for the Navy. This time on a COVID-19 response team. I was on the phone, or zoom, or running errands for the parish every morning, and in the afternoons, I was on the phone supporting sailors and their families in isolation or quarantine. That was probably the most difficult period this year, particularly supporting people stuck in unfamiliar places when State borders closed.

In July I finally completed the initial chaplain training course I had started in March. I am now officially qualified to tackle any challenges of next summer.

For now, it is good to be home and focus on our gradual return to the ordinary joys of parish life. Weekly worship is settling into a comfortable rhythm and we are seeing a few new faces, the Op Shop is open, and we are planning COVID-Safe Christmas celebrations.

I hope to start 2021 with a holiday on the NSW coast.

by Reverend Emma Street

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