More than 70 people recently gathered for a special service on the site where St Saviours Church in Quaama once stood.
The church, which on New Year's Eve bore the full brunt of the firestorm that consumed the district - but protecting the four homes down the street from where it stood - now lies as just a bare and barren rectangle of dirt. The trees surrounding it sport charred trunks, but also proudly display the epicormic growth that is the legacy of their resilience in fire.
A stout new post and rail fence circled the slowly re-emerging garden of church warden Richard Parker's neighbouring home, a sign of the slow but eventual recovery of our human condition, and Richard heralded the service by ringing, for the first time since New Year's Eve, the bell that survived unscathed in its tower amid the firestorm.
Representatives of the local fire brigades came in their yellow uniforms, bringing their trucks once more to be blessed, thankful indeed that no local firefighters were harmed during their desperate actions in January.
Cobargo Scouts brought a sense of Australian normality to the gathering with a sausage sizzle, the tempting aromas of which drifted across the carefully distancing crowd, penetrating COVID-resistant masks and starting stomachs rumbling. The sweet products of parishioners' kitchens were piled ready for consumption with the tea and coffee as the urn came to the boil. But before any of this could be enjoyed, it was time to reflect and remember.
Reverend Tim Narraway, himself an RFS member, organised and led the service of remembrance and thanksgiving. After an introduction and an Acknowledgement of Country, southern area RFS Superintendent John Cullen reflected on the long connection of his and other longstanding local families with St Saviours.
The keynote message was given by Bishop Carol Wagner, whose life has been entwined with that of the parish for many years. She too reflected on the connections that 113 years of history had forged between the community and its church building.
How many happy baptisms, joyous weddings and sorrowful funerals had it hosted in those years? How many people had passed through its door seeking spiritual solace and a place of peace? Its high, barn-like interior had lovely acoustics and was a joy in which to sing. Bishop Carol drove home the message of hope and renewal in the Lord, for all eternity, from whatever dark depths we might be coming.
In conclusion she exhorted all to be bold and imaginative with the opportunity for physical renewal too, as the parish and community formulate plans for the grounds on which they were gathered. Not to be wedded to replacing what was lost but to be creative in pursuing mission and ministry though whatever outcome will promote it to the full.
Reverend Tim gave a blessing to all assembled. Then, as he moved to bless the fire trucks, the sombre reflections gave way to relaxed conversation and the enjoyment of good food.
As the parish plans for more open-air services on the site at 10am on every fourth Sunday of the month, it can be seen that while the building has gone, the church lives on and serves its community.