Nfld. & Labrador

How this pastor is helping a small, tight-knit community grieve after 3 deaths

The deaths of three community members in Port de Grave have stunned the community, and the local pastor is helping his town grieve.

‘Wherever you go, whoever you run into, it’s the first topic of conversation,' says Russell Austin

Carl Petten's boat, the Carl Venture, sits empty in the harbour. (Facebook)

When pastor Russell Austin left the funeral for Minnie Bishop of Port de Grave last week, he learned the community's sadness was only just beginning.

On Aug. 2, Austin received a call that told him Carl Petten had died in a car accident just a few days shy of his 56th birthday. Evelyn Petten, 68, no relation, died suddenly in her husband's arms on the same day.

"Wherever you go, whoever you run into, it's the first topic of conversation," said Austin.

The three deaths have rocked the Conception Bay North community, and Austin has been busy offering condolences and helping people heal during one of the most difficult times in the area's history.

Bishop, 84, died July 29, a day after complaining of stomach problems.

"She was a lady that attended our church here often, and her son and his family attended our assembly. She lived in Coley's Point and had a lot of connections to our town and our church here," said Austin.

Petten died in a car accident east of Gander. (Port de Grave Pentecostal Tabernacle/Facebook)

Then came the news of Carl Petten's tragic accident east of Gander, he said.

"His wife is still in the hospital, just recently transferred to Carbonear General Hospital," said Austin. "And then just while I was still at the family's house on Friday ministering to the family, I had a call that another member of our community, Evelyn Petten, had passed away that morning."

It's been a lot of bad news for a small community.

"There's been three deaths, and all sudden deaths that were not expected. And it's been a tough time for our community," he said.

The town mourns, together 

"There's a heaviness here, I guess, that I've yet to experience in my time in Port de Grave. And it's just difficult days, and so many people are mourning the loss of friends and family and loved ones."

All of the mourning has had Austin spending a lot of time counselling community members.

"In my role as clergy and minister, I try to be present for families. I try my best to visit family members and to pray with them to support them. I sometimes read scripture, encouraging words for families," he said. 

Port de Grave is a tight-knit community famous for its tradition of decking boats out in Christmas lights every year. (Submitted by Joyce Morgan)

His best advice to those affected is to lean on each other.

"I encourage people to not be alone, to express their feelings, their grief, their emotions," he said.

"I encourage people to be near family to remember the good times, to hold onto the good memories and to really be there to support one another in difficult times. Because if we isolate ourselves, then I think that's only more recipe for disaster."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show