Lord Mayor Prayer Breakfast

Lord Mayor, distinguished guests , ladies and gentlemen, Good morning.    Its  a delight for some of our Veterans Care team to be here among this wonderful community of people that are concerned for others. It s a great strength of this city that we have so many people who care, and we know from a spiritual perspective, when we come together in unity of purpose,   Gods blessings will flow abundantly, and I certainly hope we all leave feeling blessed.

I’ve been invited to share with you on the interface between faith and medicine and health,  in the particular context of the work of our Veterans Care Association, as we minister to veterans and their families. I hope to offer you a pastoral reflection on this topic from our own practical synthesis of faith and medicine. We believe that Faith and medicine must come together in action. Indeed,Archbishop Mark Coleridge has called what we do in Veterans Care as “Mercy in action”. You can see some of the themes I will cover in the pictures on your table.

My desire is that you might all be encouraged , inspired and emboldened to see how you too might synthesise Faith and medicine in your own contexts. But I would be very grateful if you could also see scope to support our veteran community that struggles with many health issues, after many years of peacemaking and peacekeeping in our world.

I wonder how many people here have connection with a veteran or a veteran family? Who here has ever had a serious health issue? Who here thinks that matters of faith and health are interrelated ?  Who here have actually served in our military, police or emergency services ?  Thanks you for your service .

We at Veterans Care are an organisation of mainly veterans and some civilian supporters with a vision of raising the health and well-being of veterans and their families. We do this primarily through provision of spiritually based pastoral care and education in holistic health. We very much operate from a Wellness model of health, as opposed to the Sickness model that is the norm in our society. We feel the priority of effort must go into promoting Wellness, rather than just treating sickness when people develop acute conditions.

We are a community of Christian people, comprising doctors, psychologists, nurses, chaplains, social workers and pastoral carers. We provide care from a multidisciplinary, spiritually based,   holistic health perspective. We have some representatives here today so could I invite the Veterans Care members here to stand up please.  Dr Ian Marshall , Chaplain Peter Devenish Meares, Psychologist Caitlin Proctor , Mental Health clinician Kirsten Wells, HR advisor Christy Welldon (my Daughter) Our Treasurer Geoff  Fry and Secretary Colin Ahern. Mentor Wayne Smith and Kerry .They would be pleased to chat.

We work with a very large veteran community population in Queensland of about 170,000. About a third of them are travelling okay; about a third of them have various health issues and  get treatment; but about a third of them have serious health issues and neither seek nor  receive  treatment,  other than self medication with alcohol and drugs. Half of them are younger veterans in their 20s and 30s. In the past 9 months we at Veterans Care have had pastoral care engagements with 780 individuals and provided education in holistic health to a further 1530. And we are seeing just a small proportion of those needing help.

Many things challenge our veterans, and most of them have multiple issues.  They have physical injuries; they have mental injuries; moral injuries and relationship difficulties. Many, once medically discharged from the military, lack a sense of identity and purpose. From Enoggera alone 850 were discharged medically unfit last year . They get that dreadful designation of being Totally and Permanently Incapacitated. Imagine having that tag put on you at 25 years of age. They generally don’t seek assistance because of the stigma and embarrassment associated with having a disability, and so their problems compound.  When they do get treatment it is normally piecemeal. We find that many clinicians won’t move out of their disciplinary lane and ask about other aspects of their life.  They don’t address their full holistic needs. Almost every week this year a young veteran has taken their own life; three of them died in one week in April this year.

Why is there a need for an organisation such as Veterans Care. Surely the health system or the Department of Veterans Affairs should be able to meet their needs. And you might imagine the RSL or other groups help by taking Vets on adventure activities . They are helping in discrete ways.

But no other organisation, is providing spiritually based pastoral care to Veterans . And no other organisation is truly holistic and promoting and educating veterans in holistic health. Most programmes treat symptoms, but don’t offer hope of healing and a better life. Indeed Spirituality is specifically excluded  from any government funded programme for Vets.  We think that spirituality is vitally important to health and wellbeing .  Do you agree ?   I hope you do .  But it also must be synthesised with other contributors to health as a package deal .  We are trying to heal veterans , and we are also trying to change the system that excludes truly holistic measures. The way we do it is being embraced by veterans because they are experiencing healing and hope,  rather than just being consigned to a life of medication and treatment .  Let me tell you a parable that explains why we are being successful.

You will see that the symbol of our organisation is that iconic image of a wounded man on a donkey being let along by another. Some might see this as Private Simpson from Gallipoli. Some might also identify this image with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Who remembers that story ?-  a number of people come by,  but only one is able to help him. Can I share with you a modern version of that Parable –

A veteran finds himself in deep dark hole …..He has physical injuries, mental injuries,  relationship difficulties . He is a mess . His family  calls out for help . Along comes a doctor . The doctor is concerned for him and gives him some advice on the need for exercise and nutrition; he even gives him medication to dull the pain. The veteran takes the advice and tries to climb out of the hole but just can’t do it, on the doctors advice alone . He sinks back into despair. The doctor sends a psychologist along to see him. The psychologist  gives him some good advice on mindfulness and correcting his thinking , and the veteran takes that on board and tries to get out of the hole , gets a bit further but still cant get out and slips back into the darkness.  The psychologists advice alone cant get him out . The psychologist  calls a chaplain . He looks on him with compassion and prays with him, even gives him a Bible to read. The veteran starts praying and then tries to get out again , almost gets to the top but slides back into the darkness.  The padre’s advice alone cant get him out of the hole.  The padre calls Veterans Care, and two other veterans come along – Caitlin and Kirsten here . They yell out : hang on mate we are coming down to help you . The veteran in the hole says – don’t come down here – you wont able able to get out . They say, Its OK, we’ve already been down there and we worked  out how to get out. They get down to him, give him a hug , light a candle  and Kirsten says  to him. “All the advice you’ve been given is helpful and you need to embrace all of it.  Caitlin says, “Even then ,  it’s still hard to get out of the hole, and stay out, on your own . You need to let others help you , and then you need to become a helper yourself” . They get him out of the hole and into the sunlight and they introduce him to the wider Veterans Care community team. They offer him some training in becoming a carer and his life takes on a new purpose.

Friends , that’s what we are on about! Synthesising faith, by acts of mercy, with the best holistic medicine can offer and empowering people to help others.

Why do we do this? We are inspired and moved by Jesus declaration in Luke chapter 4 –  itself drawn from Isaiah chapter 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us… for he has anointed us to bring good news to the afflicted,  to proclaim liberty to captives, to bring new sight to the blind, to set the downtrodden free,  and proclaim the Lords favour.

How did this come about? Michael spoke briefly on this but let me share my own veteran story.  I have been supporting veterans as a chaplain for the last 22 years.

I had been supported myself by various practitioners over the years for the many health problems that I have had. I had also been doing lots of funerals for veterans that were dying much earlier than they I should have, from cancer or suicide. And then I almost died myself, from cancer and from peritonitis.  It took me to confront death yet again, in a hospital, rather than a battlefield, and to do my own research , to realise that for Veterans to restore health and stay healthy,  a whole range of things needed to be synthesised and  integrated to maintain a healthy lifestyle after the rigours of life in the military. Despite being diagnosed with PTSD 25 years ago , nobody had ever offered a holistic approach.

I was challenged to write a book – Duntroon  to Dili – weve got some of them here and you are welcome  to take a copy. It’s about my experience and the experience of many other veterans. Archbishop Mark Coleridge  helped me launch the book – he says in the foreword , “this is a story of God in the midst of the human mess…this book will help others to tell their story and see God at the heart of it …”    He also appointed me to be chaplain for the veteran community. We formed an association with a small group of carers and have just grown and grown, now to a group of about 60 volunteer supporters.

We engage veterans and their families and encourage them to develop a well-being plan with spirituality is one of the key aspects of that plan. But our fundamental strategy is simply one of love – going out looking for lost sheep , and loving people where they are at , and  affirming them in their goodness,  and encourage them to know they are loved by God and are able to love others, and themselves.

You have heard Michael talk about our comprehensive rehabilitation program for veterans – The Timor Awakening.   The RSL has given us some seed funding for the first 20 participants,  but after that we need to seek additional sponsors.  We have already about 100 needy veterans  interested to do this. We will get no Govt funding – we rely on other Good Samaritans like yourselves .  And we going forward in faith .

Today we ask you to consider supporting veterans who need your help.  These young men and women really need your help. We can’t do this without you. Please could you prayerfully consider a gift of sponsorship. Your gift will also give you membership of our association,  and we will update you regularly on the importance and the impact on your donation. Indeed you will become a veteran carer yourself. Every gift no matter how small or large is meaningful. We call it money for mission.  Weve provided gift giving sheets you can fill in ,and have an eftpos machine at the back. Thank you for caring for veterans.

There are plenty of needy veterans out there.  I appeal to you again : would you support people like this in getting a new opportunity to reimagine their lives and experience the love of God. We know that faith is a vital component of health, and can work in complete unison and harmony with medicine.  And the more success we achieve the more we can transform society and its approach to God and spirituality.

Why should we do this? Because God tells us to.   Friends can you declare  with me the inspiration scripture that you have on the sheet in front of you:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us for he has anointed us to bring good news to the afflicted,  to proclaim liberty to captives, to bring new sight to the blind,  to set the downtrodden free,  and proclaim the Lords favour .  AMEN .

Thank you Lord Mayor , thank you Mission Australia and those that have organised this event. Thanks you all – brothers n sisters in Christ.   May God bless you.  Peace be with you.

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