The Cobar, Nyngan and surrounding rural communities, who have shared a Uniting Church minister for the past three and a half years, farewelled her over the weekend.
Reverend Jo-anne Smalbil and her husband Lou, were given a send-off in Cobar on Saturday and then another in Nyngan on Sunday.
Rev Jo said they have very much enjoyed their time living in Cobar.
“I’ve thoroughly had a ball. We’ve met a lot of very interesting people, shared a lot of joys and concerns over many cups of tea,” Rev Jo said.
Working with the Uniting Church Cobar-Nyngan Frontier Services Patrol, Rev Jo’s role was spent 50/50 between the Cobar and Nyngan congregations and also included visiting people on properties.
Rev Jo said she’ll take with her a lot of very fond memories.
“It was not an easy decision to leave.
“Ministering in small communities you get to know everyone and they become family.
“You do feel like you’re leaving your family behind and I’ll certainly miss them,” she said.
Rev Jo and husband Lou are moving to Armidale where she will take up a full time congregational role to the community of Armidale and will also have oversight of the nearby Gyra and Uralla congregations.
“My decision was completely between me and God. I’m following the call,” Rev Jo said.
While she has received a lot of well wishes, many of her congregation are sad to see her go and are concerned for the future of the church.
“It provides a lot of challenges and uncertainty in the church and in the community,” Rev Jo said.
“The Uniting Church as a whole will do their best to replace me.”
She said she’s not sure when that will be as the Uniting Church has difficulties in getting ministers to move to rural areas.
Attending Rev Jo’s Closure Service in Cobar on Saturday afternoon were Cobar Uniting Church members, representatives from other Cobar Churches, Cobar community and members of the Frontier Services Patrol that Rev Jo has worked with in her time in Cobar.
Chairman of the Cobar Church Council Gordon Hill said it was sad to see the couple moving on.
“In the nearly four years that Jo and Lou have been in Cobar they have served the people of the Cobar and Nyngan communities very well,” Mr Hill said.
“Rev Jo has conducted regular Church services in both Cobar and Nyngan as well as frequently visiting people in the bush on remote properties with husband Lou along to assist with the services and the long hours of driving.
“In addition, they have both been very busy in both communities with visits by the STORMCo youth group each year, Carols in the Park, funerals and weddings, regular visits to the Lilliane Brady Village and participation in many other community events.
“Rev Jo and Lou have both been very involved with the State Emergency Service Unit in Cobar with Jo being appointed Regional SES Chaplain and Lou becoming a very active and qualified Rescue Operator and Unit Trainer,” Mr Hill said.