Home' Phillip Island and San Remo Advertiser : December 16 2015 Contents PAGE 8 - THE ADVERTISER, WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2015
AS A minister of reli-
gion, Craig Semple has
a deep understanding of
this Christian celebration.
"Along with Easter,
Christmas is an important
occasion on the church's
calendar, and tends to be
a very busy time for us
all," said Craig.
As well as his role as
a Baptist Church minis-
ter, Craig is also very in-
volved in the community
in terms of men's groups,
mental health issues and
social activities associated
with his work.
This involvement sees
him at the coalface when
it comes to an awareness
of people's problems and
their daily struggles in life.
It is at this time of the
year in particular that
Craig becomes even more
acutely aware of the hid-
den emotions that some
What should be a happy,
festive and family occa-
sion can for some be one
of sadness and loneliness.
"I've often heard the
comment 'I hate Christ-
mas', said Craig.
"It is made by people
who are dreading the
thought of spending this
time either by themselves
or are anxious for another
reason," said Craig.
"For some people, this
Christmas may be the
first one without a loved
one, either through be-
reavement or a fam-
ily break-up. For others
it can be a stressful time
financially, and especially
in regards to job security,"
There are three Ps, says
Craig, that best sum up
the expectation of Christ-
mas -- perform (being with
others), provide (in cater-
ing for meals and extra
family) and procure (the
giving of presents).
"While Christmas is a
time for giving and being
with others, it can cause
a lot of friction and angst.
"People are forced to be
with each other and can
find themselves in a situ-
ation they would rather
not be in. This is often
coupled with having to
travel distances between
families to exchange gifts,
eat big meals and then
head home late at night,"
"Christmas can either be
a recipe for a wonderful
family time or it can be a
disaster," he commented.
Times have changed,
said Craig, and this has
occurred in the space of
He cited his own child-
hood in Ireland, growing
up in a working class fam-
"We would get one pres-
ent on Christmas morn-
ing, and we were excited
and happy with that.
Now, it is out of control in
terms of the cost and the
expectation of gifts.
"I think that we are now
commercially driven rath-
er than pausing to reflect
on the real meaning of
Christmas," Craig said.
It is for this reason
that the Christian church
plays an important role,
"The church becomes
a default setting, giving
people an opportunity to
come together and spread
the message of hope.
In the northern hemi-
sphere, the cold winters
bring people together in-
side to seek comfort from
"It gives people a time
to slow down and to think
of the real meaning of this
celebration, and to feel
God amongst us."
As he prepares for fes-
tive celebrations locally,
at home with his wife and
two children, and with his
congregation, Craig will
also be thinking of those
who won't be sharing in
the joy of yuletide.
"My message to the com-
munity is to be aware of
your neighbours. Christ-
mas can be an incredibly
lonely time for some.
"While we may not be
able to alter their situa-
tion or their feelings, it is
important that we engage
with them and be there to
lend a friendly ear," said
"Christmas is about be-
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AMIDST the countdown to
Christmas and the last minute
rush to get things ready for the fes-
tive season, there is a small group
of people in our community who
are squeezing extra hours into
their day in the hope of bringing
joy to others.
The St Vincent De Paul Confer-
ence is a charitable institution that
plays an important role in helping
people in need. It is a non-denom-
inational group whose members
are all volunteers and come from
all walks of life.
They meet once a month to check
their lists and organise a roster for
home visits across the island. By
and large, the people they care for
are young families, single people
or aged residents.
It is a highly confidential service
based on easing the immediate
concerns of others. Generally these
are related to financial and stress-
ful matters in life such as rental
payments, fuel and food, transport
and ways of seeking help.
While the conference is kept
busy all year round, depending on
the number of clients at any one
time, the festive season brings its
own demands and, more often
than not, additional stress and
Conference members respond to
call- outs, via the helpline, to help
soothe the cry of "how am I going
to afford Christmas - I have no
money for presents or food!"
These are from people who have
very limited financial support,
who are trying to make Christmas
a happy time for their children,
who are left on their own or who
are feeling isolated from life for
The one thing they do know is
that there is help at the end of the
Using funds raised by the Vin-
nies Op Shop in Cowes, the St Vin-
cent De Paul Conference goes out
to the residence or family home
armed with necessary vouchers,
for food or fuel, and with a kind
heart and friendly ear.
They visit in pairs and spend
as much time as needed to assist
people through their difficulties.
As well as tending to their imme-
diate needs, conference members
are also able to direct people to
the government or shire services
that are available to them.
One of the requirements in being
a member is to attend workshops
held throughout the year to inform
them of such services and to give
them the skills needed to pass on
this information. It teaches them
to expect the unexpected.
"We never know what to expect
when we knock on people's doors.
"A lot of the anxiety of our clients
is that they don't know where to go
for help. It's our job to guide them
through this process," said a con-
"In this way we are able to help
them to help themselves -- to become
more confident and self-sufficient.
"The conference is not a hand-
out. It's a hand-up service," she
One of the most common stress-
es in people's lives is finding and
then affording accommodation.
"It's important that they know
they have somewhere to live. "
This Christmas sees conference
members, at present only 16 in
number, tending to 60 families
within the community.
This year is the first year that the
traditional Christmas hamper will
not be delivered to each house-
hold, but will be replaced by Coles
shopping vouchers. Alongside
these vouchers will be Christmas
presents that have been donated
and lovingly wrapped for individ-
These gifts come from under the
Wishing Tree at either Ray White
in Cowes or the San Remo Com-
As from December 18, conference
members will be out and about de-
livering these Christmas treats to
as many people as possible.
Despite the extra workload and
time constraints, the St Vincent De
Paul Conference receives as much
as they give.
"It's the smiles on people's faces
and the excitement of the children
that make it all worthwhile . They
are so appreciative and thrilled
to receive these gifts and to know
that we are there for them.
"In many ways, this is our
Christmas gift too!" said a confer-
The St Vincent De Paul Helpline
is 5952 6857 and operates Mon-
day, Wednesday and Friday.
Anyone interested in joining this
service can leave their contact de-
tails on the above number.
New members are always wel-
This Wishing Tree is being stacked with presents for some of the young chil-
dren in our community but there are plenty more opportunities left to help
brighten up their Christmas Day.
Sue Rockliff of Ray White Real Estate in Cowes shows the number of gift cards
that are still waiting to be picked up. This tree is part of the St Vincent De Paul
Christmas Appeal and is one way of helping families in need to enjoy the festive
These cards are also available at the San Remo Community Bank until the
end of the week.
Phillip Island Baptist Church minister Craig Sem-
ple ponders the loneliness that faces some commu-
nity members over the festive season.
The lonely side of Christmas
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