Interview with Susan Playsted / Moore College Alumnus
Susan Playsted is a graduate of Moore College. She is married to Stewart, the senior pastor of Southern Cross Presbyterian Church in the flood-ravaged town of Lismore, northern NSW. Moore Matters spoke to Susan about lessons she’s learned ministering to people during and after the flood.
Moore Matters: What’s the first lesson you’ve learned while ministering to people at this awful time?
Susan Playsted: People’s experience of grief is varied and vast.
There isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to walking alongside people in crisis. There’s that fight or flight moment in people, which can be really visible or quite internal. So you need to unpack where people are at in the moment.
MM: So how does knowing where they’re at in their grief change how you help people?
SP: Some people just want you to be shoulder to shoulder with them and help throw out damaged goods or help sort through photos. And then there are some people who don’t want to talk about their experience at all. While other people don’t want to go back into their house but are happy to talk out the front and have a drink with you.
MM: What’s the second lesson?
SP: Your own spiritual tank will be dry. It’s really hard to find quietness to do a quiet time. But it’s also hard to have a still mind to absorb anything or feel like you’re connected to God and His word. But you have to desire to do it. So, I changed what I was doing in my normal quiet time. My mentor suggested reading or listening to someone else who has done all the thinking for you so that you can meditate, even if it’s just on a verse or a word. Because now is not really the time to have to plumb the depths of Romans 8 or something like that.
MM: Because energy levels are so low?
SP: And your brain feels like it’s in a complete flog. It gets really scattered. So even reading through Psalms with Tim Keller’s help— that’s been refreshing. It’s about not giving it up altogether, but doing what’s manageable. And also to use that to encourage others. Other women leaders would share a little phrase out of a Psalm or a verse on our WhatsApp. This gives you spiritual input when you’re feeling quite low. That’s so key.
MM: What was your third lesson?
SP: An open home with food is your greatest asset as you minister to people.
People need a safe space to debrief, laugh, cry, and be refuelled physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You’ve got to resist the urge [to feel] that you’re useless because you’re not on the front-line, hosing or cleaning with the community because you need to look after children at home.
I was utterly amazed that while we were without a power supply for many days like the rest of Lismore, somehow, in God’s good provision, we just had food turn up at our house. A dairy farmer in Bex Hill couldn’t get the milk truck in, so he was offloading fresh milk. You’d end up with 24 eggs from somewhere else. I had no idea who these people were: they were just connections through people we knew.
It was like somebody knew somebody who knew that I was feeding many people. We had a gas stove, so I could cook even though we’d lost power. You would never know who would turn up, but without a lie, there would always be one bowlful left, no matter how many people I cooked for.
MM: What’s Lesson four?
SP: It’s important to have some moments of dislocation.
We spent time outside Lismore to recalibrate and then re-engage. Having someone outside the situation to talk to has been important, which is tricky as everyone in Lismore has been affected. There were so many people we spoke to who were traumatised, and it would have been harder for us to cope without that outlet.
MM: How did that help you?
SP: It helped me be ready for unexpected conversations that could suddenly turn intense and emotional. Sometimes people just came round to drop something off, when they’d be triggered by something and say, ‘I lost that as well’. It was important to be ready for those moments.
MM: And the final lesson?
SP: God is truly very creative and clever, and He brings good out of this tragedy.
There have been many amazing moments, seeing people growing in their faith before my eyes.
MM: Is there an incident that stands out for you?
SP: We were having a meal, and a young adult said: ‘it feels like we’re on a teen mission to Fiji, but this isn’t like a ‘fake’ mission, it’s ‘real’ mission. We should read the Bible right now.’ And so, we stopped right there and read the Bible together. They really owned their trust in God. And they would unashamedly say they were Christian when they went to help and clean other people’s houses.
MM: What are you hoping for next as a Church?
SP: I think one would be to keep those relationships going with those non-Christians we’ve been able to help. And I know our people are keen to do that.
Easter was such a beautiful time of hope, which churches in Lismore could offer in ways the government can’t.
I think we’re going to have to be creative in using our physical church building. It’s one of the only public buildings still standing undamaged in Lismore.
MM: What can we pray for you?
SP: Please pray that we don’t go weary and that our people will be committed to their spiritual health even as they care for others.
MM: How might people help practically?
SP: We’ve partnered with a few Sydney churches, as our giving budget has taken a bit of a nosedive. It would be terrible to lose staff at this time of increased need for ministry staff.
MM: And, if people want to contact you to encourage or assist, they can do that through the Southern Cross Presbyterian Church website at scpc.org.au.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us!