Since arriving in Orbost in May last year, Snowy River Patrol Minister Rev Rowena Harris has travelled through the ranges of remote Victoria, meeting many residents and the few other professionals who cross paths with hers, as they move between Tubbut, Bendoc, Delegate and surrounding locations.
Not many go into the mountains. As government services are stretched to the limit, more public service roles have been taken away, leaving, in manycases, only the Non-Government Organisations, and among them, usually only the Churches and their agencies.
Rowena says she has been blessed by the gracious invitation of Uniting Care Bairnsdale staff worker, Renee Grant, who is the “Little Green Frog” Coordinator. The “Little Green Frog” is a service that provides early childhood support and resources to communities in East Gippsland. Renee invited Rowena to attend her playgroups in the regions where she provides ministry. Renee runs several groups, some in very remote areas.
When Rowena can attend and join in the activities, it gives her a much-appreciated chance to meet families she would most probably not meet at any other event. Churches are few and far between, and membership is low, but here, in playgroups, she talks to mums and dads, relates to extended family members and has fun with the children.
Then when Rowena meets families, informally at the shops, or in a park, she can build upon relationships already begun. Sometimes, Rowena even gets a lift in the Frog truck, as Renee fills her vehicle with toys and craft activities, and drives through Orbost, past the manse, and up the steep, winding mountain roads.
Occasionally, Rowena and Renee have been involved with other service providers. Centacare Gippsland is the official social service of the Catholic Church in the region. Tracey Moffat, a counsellor, helps organise Pamper Days for local women, and both Renee and Rowena attend.
Pamper Days are open to local women – farming folk, Indigenous people, single mums – whatever the chosen focus group is for that occasion. At such events, child care is organised through Renee, and Rowena joins the service team of craftspeople, cooks, beauticians, massage therapists and similar, many of whom donate their services to support vulnerable people in remote regions.
Rowena runs a craft table, decorating and jewellery-making with buttons and beads, and has discovered the process of providing pastoral care “by stealth”.
“Women will open up and talk about life issues and life’s meaning, while engaged in a non-threatening craft activity.”
And again, relationships begun over a cuppa and a glue-gun can continue when Rowena meets these people elsewhere.
“I have been very fortunate in meeting people like Renee and Tracey. They have been so welcoming to me to join in activities right across the region. Their good reputations have opened doors to me that otherwise would have been tightly closed. I have been undoubtedly blessed by God with such agencies as Uniting Care and Centacare here in East Gippsland, and with such excellent colleagues.”