Travelling from remote locations across Australia, the 22 Frontier Services Patrol Ministers met in Alice Springs for their biannual conference in September.
It was a rare opportunity for the patrol ministers to come together to share and reflect on their ministry in remote Australia and participate in ongoing training.
With half of the ministers travelling to the conference by road, the Patrol Minister fleet of dusty four-wheel-drive vehicles was quite a sight when it rolled into Alice Springs.
The ministers travelled from places as diverse as the west coast of Tasmania, Cape York in the far north east, Hughenden in north Queensland, Broken Hill in NSW, the Pilbara and Kimberley in the West and the Snowy River region in Victoria.
Frontier Services Associate National Director David Buxton said it was an extremely valuable time for the patrol ministers to share with each other the joys and also the challenges of providing pastoral support to people living in isolated locations.
“The patrol ministers really valued the opportunity to have everybody together. Some of the ministers had not met each other before. It reinforced the sense that they were part of a family – they recognised how valuable that was.”
“The meeting also highlighted the incredible diversity in the locations of our patrols. We had ministers who are based in the tropics wearing jumpers and warm clothing the whole time and we had people from Tasmania peeling off the layers because it was too hot.”
The conference was also designed to build the capacity of the patrol ministry network with a focus on mental health training.
Clinician and educator Dr John Ashfield conducted training for the patrol ministers on how to identify and assist with mental health issues.
The training focused on gender and the differences between men and women in terms of how they deal with stress, grief and trauma.
“Dr Ashfield showed the necessity of a different approach to mental health first aid for both men and women,” Mr Buxton said.
The patrol ministers who travel long distances to visit remote families are often the first person to call on for spiritual or emotional support. The ongoing mental health training is invaluable for patrol ministers to address these issues.
Broken Hill Patrol Minister Jorge Rebolledo led a session on Code of Ethics for ministers. Mr Rebolledo was teaching this topic in NSW before he joined Frontier Services in March this year.
“The patrol ministers found this session extremely useful as it updated their knowledge in terms of their requirements and code of ethics,” Mr Buxton said.
As part of their pastoral sharing, Croajingolong Patrol Minister Rowena Harris and Parkin Patrol Minister John Dihm both spoke about their faith journey and life experience and how that has influenced the way they sustain themselves when they have not got a church community around them.
On the Sunday, the Patrol Ministers shared in worship with the Alice Springs Uniting Church, at the John Flynn Memorial Church, a location which resonated with the patrol ministers as it was Flynn who established the first ‘padre patrol’ as part of the Australian Inland Mission formed in 1912.
They also had the opportunity to enjoy an evening meal at the manse of Centralian Patrol Minister Colin Gordon and on another evening, met with Frontier Services staff based in Alice Springs, including aged care, respite and community services staff.