Bushfires, our
schools and Lent

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Bushfires, our schools and Lent

The Revd Peter Laurence OAM | CEO Anglican Schools Commission

How many times have you said ‘Happy New Year’ this new decade? The beginning of a new school year is always a time filled with much joy and anticipation. Unlike our tired states at the end of the year, we start 2020 refreshed and ready to face a year of new learning, new experiences and new friends.

For many in ASC school communities, in WA and on the Victoria/NSW border where three of our schools are located, I’ve been told many stories of school families having to be evacuated from their homes and spending many days and nights, even weeks, in emergency evacuation centres. Indeed, at the end of last year, St James’ Anglican School at Alkimos opened its doors as an evacuation centre to families who were impacted by the bushfire in the Yanchep area.

All of us have followed with horror the awful January bushfires in Victoria, NSW and South Australia. The news told of tragic losses of lives, devastation of animal populations and destruction of property. The stories have touched every Australian and millions around the world. At the time of writing in January, one Anglican school (St Peter’s Anglican College at Broulee in NSW) had been partially destroyed by fire. Principal Darren McPartland (a former teacher at St Mark’s Anglican Community School in Hillarys) spent many hours fighting the fires as a volunteer ‘firie’ together with the thousands of others giving their time to do this essential yet dangerous act of service.

Nick Jones moved from Perth (where he was Deputy Principal at John Wollaston Anglican Community School) at the end of December, to take on the position of Principal of our Cathedral College Wangaratta. From the moment of his arrival, Nick was confronted with the reality of a large number of school families having been displaced from their homes.

There’s much of summer remaining. There’s an uncertainty about what further devastation might come to our vast country over the coming weeks. We pray earnestly that no further lives are lost.

Times such as these remind us that Anglican schools are so much more than just schools. Our schools are communities of caring people. For some one hundred thousand Western Australians, at any one time an Anglican school is their only real connection with our church; for many, it is the only real community to which they belong.

The parish church, Rotary or Lions Club was once central to the connected life of the average Australian adult. Today, they are more likely to connect through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and not belong to any parish community or service organisation. This is a harsh reality of the new world order.

As schools, we don’t resile from the challenge of being a community. It’s easy to complain of crowded curricula and not enough time to teach the basics, but really, schools have always been places where students and teachers, parents and carers belong 24-7 and 365 days a year, not just from Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 3.30pm, forty weeks a year.

This year Lent takes on a different perspective for many Australians, especially if they have lost loved ones, livestock or property; but also if they are in privileged positions of government and decision-making, as they take time out to reflect on the horror of the bushfires, and the actions that we as a nation should and must take moving forward, rebuilding lives, homes and communities. The selfless sacrificial actions of so many this past summer reflect a true Lenten spirit. Our challenge is to use this Lent to set aside time to prepare ourselves, our schools and parish communities for the challenges of living in a changed and changing world.

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