Dear Inner Circle,

A young bloke from Melbourne arrived at my office fifteen years ago, asking if I could show him around the toughest places in Sydney. He made it clear that he wanted to settle in the place where he found the most need. His plan was to bring his wife and two little kids to Sydney and simply improve the lives of people by building community. He was determined to live on the same amount of money as someone who relied upon the dole to exist. On the one hand, I was inspired by this fellow and on the other, I wondered if he wasn’t a bit crazy. He was a qualified social worker and his wife had a PhD in pharmacology. They could have made lots of life choices that would be fulfilling and more comfortable.

In a previous life, I’d spent most of my time in Mount Druitt, Penrith, Blacktown and parts of Campbelltown. I showed him streets where most windows were broken, every fence was tagged and where domestic violence was often heard from the footpath. I showed him the worst and I think my motive was to talk him out of his silly project. The next time I saw him he was back with his wife and I conducted a similar tour for them both. I repeatedly tried to make the point that to choose to live in any of these streets would demand a high cost, especially on their young kids. My warnings seemed to encourage them which left me feeling wise, much older and not nearly as brave.

It was not long before the couple had found a house and settled in one of the most challenging streets. With no funding for a community centre, they used their own home as a base for building connections and providing support to Mount Druitt’s most vulnerable residents. My life was busy to the extent that I largely forgot about them. Perhaps every four or five months, I’d have some contact with the man. On each occasion, I fully expected tales of strangers arriving at the door at all hours, looking for food or money or a bed or all of the above. It became perfectly clear that the family were being pulled out of bed regularly by domestic violence or by kids who had nowhere to turn when all the adults in their lives were wasted on alcohol or other substances. The man confirmed my worst fears and yet he defied my wisdom with endless grace, patience and a wicked sense of humour.

All my life I’ve worked in the rough end of humanity; in child protection and as a prison chaplain at Parramatta and overseeing a string of refuges; providing on-arrival housing and building relationships with refugees from the war in Sudan and much more. Whenever I began to think that my work was demanding, I would recall this couple to mind who had chosen to live in their place of work.

Over the years, I saw this man live his vision and it seemed to feed him and give him all the energy and inspiration he needed to keep going. Never once did I hear him discouraged nor lacking humility and humour. I came to recognise an extraordinary man and an extraordinary family.

I could not be more thrilled to announce that this extraordinary man, Pastor Jon Owen, will be the person I hand the Wayside Chapel baton to as I transition out of the CEO and Pastor role this year.

Jon’s appointment comes after the Wayside Chapel Board conducted a robust process, fielding candidates from around the world, and taking great care to place the future of Wayside in the safest hands. 

Jon is not a new face to our community – he has been working at Wayside since October 2016 as the Assistant Pastor and for over a year he’s been our Head of People and Culture. Jon will start his role as CEO and Pastor on 1 July 2018, at which point I will become a “grandfather” at Wayside.

I’ll be continuing my involvement with Wayside as Pastor Emeritus and will provide support to Jon before taking a break at the end of the year. I will then be back next year at Wayside to assist in pastoral work and to teach courses in philosophy and leadership.

You can read more about the appointment here.

The future is in good hands and I’m over the moon.

Thanks for being part of this Inner Circle,

Graham

Rev Graham Long
Pastor & CEO
Wayside Chapel

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