November 23rd, 2023All faith, no faith, everyone welcome…
Three days after the accident, the churches of Daylesford came together to hold a Community Memorial Service. “All Faith – No Faith – Everyone is Welcome.” About 220 people attended Christ
Church for the combined service of the Anglican Parish of Daylesford, St Peter’s Catholic Church Daylesford, the Daylesford Uniting Church and the Daylesford-Hepburn Springs Baptist Church.
Anglican minister Father Neil Fitzgerald said the service started with an Acknowledgement of Country and then each minister played a role. “We all came together for the last part, a hymm and then sang Over the Rainbow and it really felt like a big hug. It was lovely and the reaction from the congregation
Fr Neil said he had been thinking on the Monday how a faith community could let people know they were there for them. “I rang Father Justin at the Catholic Church with the idea of the service and he said ‘yep’, and Lorelle at the Uniting Church was in. And then when I was doing a shift for the community chaplains, I met the Baptist pastor Ross’s wife and they were in.
“Alicia from Verey’s (Funeral) rang and said she was going to bring up a sound system because the church was going to be full and she was right. It was standing room only.” Fr Neil said there was just one hymn “because we didn’t want to over-church people, it was more about faith and the community and that is what people appreciated. We weren’t passing a collection plate around or asking for donations or saying come to church next Sunday. Afterwards people gathered out the front and said it was what they needed at the right time.”
Fr Neil said since the service many people had visited the church to chat about the accident, or what was happening in their lives or how they were trying to cope with numerous traumatic events. Others just wanted to sit in the silence of the church and meditate. And just this year Fr Neil had trained to be part of the Victorian Council of Churches’ emergency ministry team, so found himself doing four 4-hour shifts in the main street as a community chaplain.
“So my first call out was on the doorstep and I had two hats on, a community chaplain and the local vicar because people recognised me. We spoke to lots of businesses, just to make sure they were OK, and many said they appreciated the tourists being around and not staying away. And the tourists we spoke to said they were not sure if they should be here but we told them they were appreciated.
“A lot of people stopped us to say thanks for being here, or ask if they could talk to us, or just gave us a hug and burst into tears. “I was a bit fortunate because I was on the special assistance team for Qantas for 20 years so that came in handy knowing how to approach things. Still, it was pretty confronting here on your own doorstep.” Fr Neil said many in the community also said they felt they had a duty of care for those involved in the accident.
“They had come here to spend their money, enjoy a long weekend and people felt, not that they had let them down, but that they had a connection with them. They were a part of our family for that afternoon. A lot of people are still pretty raw about that.”
Fr Neil said he felt many people were slowly moving forward but the first responders were going to need a lot of counselling support – which is available for as long as it is needed. “I think my way of coping was organising the service. I had something to do. And the enthusiasm for it was just amazing.
“And a woman I met at the accident site was part of the Melbourne Sikh community and I asked her if it would appropriate for us to read a Sikh prayer in a church and she said absolutely and sent me one.
“It was great to be able to share something different and I have had a lot of people ask for a copy of that prayer.” Fr Neil said more combined services were being planned for Christmas including a Blue Service on Christmas Eve for those who had lost someone or had gone through trauma.
Words: Donna Kelly