Dear Inner Circle,

If where you stand determines what you see, then who you walk with determines what you’ll do and where you’ll end up. One of the first evenings my family moved to Mt Druitt almost 20 years ago is still etched deeply in our memories. As we were unpacking boxes, sirens were wailing in our back alleyway, as the police arrested someone who wasn’t the most popular resident. The neighbours though were quietly allowing the son of the woman being arrested to quickly jump over their fences when the authorities had their backs turned. Their movements were swift, silent, and stunningly well-coordinated. Later when I asked about this, one of the neighbours laughed at me, “You’ve got a lot to learn yet. As much as she can be a pain, what would have been one night in lock-up for her, may have ended up being months in care for that poor boy, and there’s no way any of us would ever let that happen!” The care around that kid was an exceptional lesson in what community really means. Much of the time I spent there was as a student rather than a teacher.

All stories have origins and seek destinations, as our stories were woven into that neighbourhood, we found ourselves in relationships with members of the local Aboriginal community. We had always dreamed of marching victoriously, but as their stories moved from being something we’d read about in a newspaper to being a person in front of us, we more often found ourselves limping. This is National Reconciliation Week, where many bold statements may be made. All I can promise is that as our Aboriginal Cultural Centre has reopened, we reaffirm our commitment to walking beside our Aboriginal brothers and sisters to provide a safe space where our Aboriginal community can move from a state of trauma to reconnect with their cultural strengths.  Like the Freedom Rides led by Charles Perkins that left from Wayside’s front steps in 1965, we will continue to march in the hope that our shared path will lead to love. We also know that if we are truly doing this in relationship then we will also at times be hobbling.

Since 1964 Wayside has been an interesting fit with the church. In the ’60s there were battles over many things that today wouldn’t raise an eyebrow anywhere. I have footage of a church service in those days that captured this “cutting edge church”, except all the radical young men wore white shirts and ties and all the women wore hats and gloves. In the 90’s Ray Richmond opened the “Tolerance Room” where people could safely inject with medical supervision. It was a step too far for many supporters and most of the church, yet it led to the Drug Summit in NSW and the establishment of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross. In 2004 the Wayside called a postie and a failed minister to be their next leader and his name was Graham Long. In the early days we spoke of the “Family of Humanity” and more lately, “Creating a community of no ‘us and them’”, but the mission hasn’t changed in over 50 years. The world has changed a lot and so has the church in recent years. Typical of Wayside, I entered leadership here by irregular channels. A measure of change over time is that I have found mostly warm support from everywhere, including the church. It’s hard for any institution to accept people into leadership that wouldn’t necessarily fit the mould, so, it is with some astonishment and gratitude, that I announce that the Uniting Church has invited me to proceed to ordination. Personally I’m pleased to be a “Rev” just like all the leaders at Wayside Chapel before me. More importantly, this is a move and a party that will not just be celebrated in church circles, but right across the community, including the gutters of Sydney. Look out for the celebration, to which you will be all be invited to watch online in the coming weeks. Graham Long is telling everyone it will be an “awe-dination”.

Thanks for being part of our Inner Circle,

Jon

PS. Next week will be the start of winter. As we delve into the colder months, help us at Wayside Chapel continue to provide the support people need, so anyone who walks through our doors receives a hot shower, a meal, plus connection, practical help, and the care and love they deserve. You will also receive a tax-deductible receipt for tax time. Donate at waysidechapel.org.au/winter

Jon Owen

Pastor & CEO
Wayside Chapel

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