A Place at the Table

Dear Inner Circle,

A few years ago my wife Lisa was digitising our VHS tapes so we threw our wedding video in for a quick watch. Together we froze as mid-way the VHS whirred and scratched uncooperatively. Thankfully it recovered but suddenly the guests appeared to have completely changed. Lisa turned to me, “I don’t recognise these people.” This wasn’t an expression of a love that moves beyond illusion to the real. She was pointing to the politicians of the time Graham Richardson, John Howard and Kim Beazley, all of whom weren’t at our wedding. Then I remembered in horror back to 2001 when on election night I had to attend to an emergency and didn’t want to miss a moment of the coverage, so as I ran out the door I just hit “record” on the VHS, assuming the tape inside was from the last week’s football match.

Sadly our wedding has now been relegated to memory only. It was a beautiful day, where people from all walks of life celebrated together including women Lisa had sheltered and re-housed, men and women who had arrived seeking asylum and had lived with us, local elders and countless others, numbering over 500 all crammed into Collingwood Town Hall. As neither of us can dance, the bridal waltz was replaced by the “Nutbush City Limits”. It was a sight to behold, we nearly broke the floor with our stomping and laughing. That day people arrived as strangers but left as friends, all united in their shared love for a nervous and awkward young couple. For a brief moment, on that dance floor people weren’t assessing their differences but were united in the joy of their inability to keep time.

Sadly, our world is being divided through hostility between strangers. The extension of the gift of hospitality towards the stranger is a rare one these days. However, disconnection is not our destiny and if we want to re-weave a fractured society then it is a discipline, one that our beautiful volunteers practice every day at Wayside Chapel. At Wayside we reject the language of the “client”, and instead we use “visitor”, which in turn makes us all hosts. We always do so in the belief that all guests carry precious gifts that they are willing to give to gracious hosts. This year’s theme for National Volunteer Week is “Better Together” – which is a truth deeply hidden. The truth that when I encounter someone different from me, I have the opportunity to learn what it means to become more deeply human in this world as my biases and preconceived notions melt away in encounters of mutual love, which makes us all better when we are together.

In the words of one of our regular volunteers this week, “Volunteering at Wayside is meaningful for me because it’s a place to practice the radical idea that all people are of equal value. That all of us, no matter how badly we’ve missed the mark, deserve a place at the table – the same table, together. It’s a place of truth telling in a world of pretence. It’s a place where each time I walk in the door I get to encounter people whose lives and contexts are truly different and yet whose needs and dreams for love and belonging, healing and rest are just the same as mine…Spending time at Wayside hammers home to me that those people our culture places at the bottom, often have the most to teach us.”

Luckily for us we are in good company, our Inner Circle. Thank you for making us better together.



Rev. Jon Owen
Pastor & CEO
Wayside Chapel

PS. As we head into the colder months you can help us continue to be a place where people from all walks of life can always feel safe, supported and welcome. Please support us, so we can make sure our community can stay connected, warm and dry this winter. Donate now.

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