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.

New veterans’ rehabilitation program in Timor

Article originally published in the Catholic Leader 14 April, 2016. Written by Mark Bowling

New veterans’ rehabilitation program in Timor to combat “health crisis” and increased suicide rates with spirituality

HUNDREDS of Australian veterans are expected to travel to Timor Leste as part of a unique rehabilitation program with spirituality at its core.

The 12-month program, called Timor Awakening, is taking aim at a “health crisis” amongst young Australian veterans, who suffer from a frightening suicide rate.

RSL Queensland has RSL Qld has agreed to sponsor the first 20 participants in the programme which will eventually expand to 200 veterans and their families.

It will include an 11-day Timor Leste trip during which the Australian vets will visit sites of historical wartime interest, and team up with Timorese veterans and their families.  (more…)

Timor in hearts and minds

Article originally published in the Townsville Bulletin 14 April, 2016 at 8.33am.

IN the years after World War II, Australian Sparrow Force veterans regularly returned to Dili in Timor to help locals who supported them in 1942.

It’s about 720km from Darwin, the same distance from Rockhampton to Townsville.

Mostly veterans of the 2/2nd Independent Commando Company, gunners, engineers, medics and Tasmania’s 2/40th Infantry Battalion, part of Australia’s tragically doomed 8th Division, these men took part in an annual pilgrimage to return to the gallant Timorese a little of the support given to them at great cost.

Around August each year they would gather at Darwin’s Larrakeyah Barracks to fly by RAAF aircraft to Dili airport which they had clandestinely observed from the hills to the south at Dare.

There the Timorese provided sanctuary while the Australian and Dutch soldiers reported on Japanese movements from the airstrip just kilometres away by line of sight. (more…)

Management Committee Meeting Minutes – 14th Feb 2016

Meeting Details

Location: Kookabuurra Café Paddington.
Date: 14 Feb 2016
Opened: 19:30; President Gary Stone, Chair.


Gary Stone, Lynne Stone, Geoff Fry, Colin Ahern, Paul Randall, Ellen Randall , Claudia Randall, Graham Harvison, Les Anson, Gaye Hull, Christina Hully, Bruce Bonney, Andrew Regget, Donna Regget, Rev. Peter Devenish-Meares, John Jordon, Kevin Lappin, Rosella Fowle, Gary Fowle, Bill Kenny, Barbara Kenny, George Stack, Byron Court, John Hull, Peter Lehmann, Steve Hall, Caitlin Proctor, Col Ahern. (more…)

Australian Veterans Suicide Rates are Tragic

IT’S a shocking, whispered truth about our modern military – far more of our veterans take their own lives after returning home than are killed during overseas operations. In the last few weeks, two more veterans took their own lives – the toll is more than 260 since 1988, compared to 46 listed as fatalities in conflict, according to the Australian Veterans Suicide Register. “It breaks my heart, it’s tragic, it’s simply hard for people to comprehend,” Deacon Gary Stone, who is chaplain to the ex-service community in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, said.

Deacon Stone is a veteran of recent operations including Iran-Iraq, East Timor, Bougainville, the Asian tsunami, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. “These are men who have been to war, endured tough things,” he said. “It is the coming back, the reintegrating into life that’s difficult.” (more…)

Homily: The Spirit of the Lord is upon us…

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 down trodden free, and proclaim the Lords favour … “ Luke 4: 16-19 

Friends I want to share three messages with you today- the first being the importance of the Word of God, the second being the importance of the Power of the Holy Spirit and the thirdy a reflection on the mission that we have to bring good news to others.

I hope you were uplifted by tonight’s Gospel reading of Jesus announcing his mission, by echoing the words of Isaiah 61. It is a key piece of Scripture. I saw this Gospel being played out in modern day Nazareth a few years ago on a study tour to the Holy Land. In the centre of Nazareth they have reconstructed for educational purposes , a village complete with real people in period costume , animals, buildings and crops, depicting life as in the time of Jesus, giving insight into the context of his messages.

As part of the educational program, it was explained to us how shortly after Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan and spent a 40 day retreat up in the hills, he returned to his home town of Nazareth – an obscure Jewish community planted in Gentile territory. We were taken to a re-creation of the synagogue where Jesus would have worshipped. An actor representing Jesus then came into the synagogue, picked up the scroll of Isaiah and proclaimed this liberating scripture with power and gusto. There was acclamation all around. However he then went on and explained that this Gospel was not just about the Jewish people, this message was meant for all people, especially the Gentiles that lived in that area. Some people in the crowd were unhappy with this and demanded that he be ejected. Jesus headed off down to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee where he started gathering disciples and commencing his ministry of preaching and healing to all.

This re- enactment experience had a powerful impact upon me. It touched my soul. And it continues to inspire me today to a ministry of compassion to others. What we have heard in the scripture today is really Jesus manifesto – what his whole purpose is about – a mission statement for all Christians to embrace, particularly in this year of Mercy.

Jesus didn’t come to build churches schools or hospitals. He came to initiate a mindset of transforming mission. The church enables the mission, but the missionary outcome of transformed lives always has to be our focus. Pope Francis echoes this approach every day.

This scriptural story can be an inspiration for us all, because the Spirit of the Lord is available to all of us, to help us deal with any challenge in life. We were all anointed with holy oil at our baptism and confirmation, to be people who bring good news to people, and help the afflicted, to help people see the love of God in us.

This is spiritual power in these words of Jesus. Of course, many other scriptural passages that can give us inspiration too. Our first reading told us how in the time of Ezra, the people listened all day to the Word of God which was translated by him into practical application . Our Archbishop Mark is a scripture scholar and is always encouraging us to to be nourished by scripture. We can feed on the Word of God like daily bread. It truly can give us life. Indeed if we are not receiving some daily scriptural input we could be spiritually undernourished. I’ll give you a brief personal example of how I respond to this. Some of you would know that my current ministry is to provide pastoral care to war veterans and their families through the ministry called Veterans Care, This scripture passage inspires us to do what we do. We have a ministry team of young service people who go out and engage with veterans and their families, and share good news with them. We remind them that they are loved and can be healed and restored to wholeness; that they can be liberated from the behaviours and addictions that might limit them. It is not easy work. Many veterans now have significant disabilities and dysfunctional family situations, and humanly we could be discouraged from thinking we could achieve much at all.

But I know the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit will lift us and guide us in ways that will help us to help those in need. Every morning, I pray the Prayer of the Church and reflect on the scriptures of the day. I then send out to my pastoral team on Facebook, a message from one of the scriptural texts for the day. I keep reminding them that this ministry, indeed any ministry, needs to be spiritually and scripturally based. We can do very little without the power of the Holy Spirit, and to get in touch with the Holy Spirit we need to be inspired by the word of God. And of course the result is that day by day we see God at work in healing the lives of the needy, and sustaining us in commitment.

Friends there are many, many missions, any many, many needs in our community and it is my hope and prayer that each one of us here will continue to see that we have a particular role to play in Gods great mission. As we become aware of what Gods daily mission is for us, I just pray that we will call to mind that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, ready to empower us to bring hope, healing, and love to those around us. This mission that Jesus took up is our mission too. It is certainly my hope that all of us here will be aware more aware of the significance of the nourishment available in the Word of God, be confident in the power of the Holy Spirit, and be people with a mindset of being missionaries that bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those around us.

Friends , The Spirit of the Lord is upon us … Let us rejoice and be glad.

February 2016: Update on Veterans Care Activities

Support for Veterans & their Families

We were hoping the Christmas/New year period would  be quiet but it has involved  a wide range of engagement and significant pastoral care interventions.  We have had numerous requests for assistance as well as the emergence of new and exciting possibilities.

Our Raison d’etre is providing spiritually-based pastoral care as well as education in holistic health, but we have also seen a number of families seeking assistance in crisis. We have been helping families and abused and abandoned by abberant veterans, including assistance in court actions. One family member responded, “I didn’t know how I could get through the court proceeding but knowing that you and Caitlin were there has given me hope.” (more…)

Homily – The Family

Luke 2:41 -52 “….Jesus went back to Nazareth with his parents and lived under their authority . He grew in wisdom and strength and God was pleased with him….”.

We come together today to celebrate the holy family of Jesus Mary and Joseph but also to celebrate the human families that we live in and the sacredness of family life.

We are mindful that not all families experience joy and peace at Christmas time, as some will be concerned about what s missing in their family experience. But drawing on the scriptures,  tradition and lived experience,  I would hope to encourage us all to promote and  enjoy family life. (more…)

Christmas Message

We wish you all have a joyous and happy Christmas , particularly remembering the reason for the season – that God became one of us in the person of Jesus.

The work of VCA in raising the health of the Veteran community is a compassionate ministry of love that is grounded in the love of God that inspires us to love our neighbours in distress. (more…)

Nov 2015: Update on Veterans Activities

This last quarter of the year has seen us involved in a wide range of engagement. It has also been a period where we have become aware of how wide and complex the needs of our veterans and their families are. We have had numerous requests for assistance as well as many people suggesting additional things that we could be involved in.

Our Raison d’etre has been to provide spiritually based pastoral care as well as education in holistic health. In working with veterans and their families we have tried to encourage people to take self-responsibility in building resilience in their lives once they are empowered with the information to do this. (more…)

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