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More than just food and blankets: The role of local parish churches in community resilience in response to specific and general threats.

Ward, Julie (2019) More than just food and blankets: The role of local parish churches in community resilience in response to specific and general threats. Masters by Coursework thesis, Murdoch University.

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In times of disaster, local churches often respond to community need and provide physical needs, such as food and blankets. Intangible needs such as a safe place, opportunities for symbolic actions like lighting a candle, wanting to help others, and face-to-face interactions, are also sought from churches. The assumption that the local church meets these needs in response to a specific threat to the community suggests an invisible connection between a church and a community.

The main aim of this research was to evaluate the general and specific community resilience activities of parishes in bush fire prone communities of the Perth Hills. Secondly, to evaluate how the parish clergy engage in local-level interactions and acquire local knowledge as part of their role.

A review of literature on community resilience identified Ross et al. (2010) framework for evaluating communities based on local level activities as a suitable tool for this research. This framework correlates with the findings from the literature on the role of churches in disaster resilience. These findings suggest that in times of disaster, communities are looking for local people, local knowledge and local resources for assistance. However, there is little literature on the concept of churches having a role in building community resilience to general threats. Northcott (2000), coined the term “parochial ecology” to describe the local-level interactions that the parish churches engage in and placed the church in the social-ecological system of the community.

As a wife of an Anglican Priest who is Rector of a parish in the Perth Hills, I am an insider researcher. Case studies with semi-structured interviews provided the best method of collecting the stories of church-community interactions.

The research found that local parish churches with a sense of being part of the community, and not separate to the community, are engaging in activities that build resilient communities; however, there is no name for that in the vocabulary of parish clergy.

Recommendations from this research include the need for recognition of the circumstances surrounding a parish in a bush fire prone community and on the usefulness of adopting a term like parochial ecology to help explore the deep connections that parish churches could have in their communities.

This research suggests further areas of research in the importance of local groups to building resilient communities.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Coursework)
Murdoch Affiliation: College of Arts, Business, Law and Social Sciences
Supervisor(s): Hodgson, Nicole
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