Dear Inner Circle,
Not long ago, I was called to the hospital at the request of someone with only a few days left to live. It was clear that she didn’t have long; her body laid waste by an aggressive cancer, yet this failed to obscure the beauty she radiated. She had called me to her bedside to tell her story and gave me permission to share it here after she was gone.
She had always been looked upon for her beauty and, at a far too young age, attracted the attention of men who took advantage of her. They only ever wanted her for one thing, many taking by force what should only be given, and afterwards, she was left discarded, rendered invisible. “No one ever saw the real me; I was consumed with shame, the only comfort I found was in a syringe.” This path led her to Kings Cross, where she began working the streets. One day, she found her way into our chapel and, over the years, found a different kind of comfort as she snuck into a few of the services, starting back when Rev Ray Richmond was running the place.
She told me that she was now at peace, because during her darkest times, “I heard the stories I remembered from childhood, and in that little chapel I was reminded that I am enough just as I am, and am loved for who I am, not what I do for others, and that gave me a deep peace. I kept my job, because it was the only one I knew how to do, but without the shame I once felt. Please share this later on, but for now, I am ready to let go and fall into his arms”. Being in such a presence is rare, and I felt the urge to take off my shoes, as if standing on holy ground. Trembling, I placed my hands on her head and prayed a blessing over her.
A life lived at pace often makes room for big moments, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it frequently leads us to miss the smaller, slower acts of kindness, which is where the real gold is often found. Recently, the news has shifted focus to the steady emergence of homeless encampments in our cities. From the outside they look messy, and there are calls to “move them on”. However, this prompts the next logical question: To where?While there are undoubtedly big structural issues that demand more action than answers, our focus right now at Wayside is on the little community that has found themselves there, a place none of them ever planned to be. Each individual holds a story that is cut deep with pain, trauma and loss. The eyes of judgment may walk past with scorn, but the eyes of the heart would sit with them, and marvel at the kindness and care they extend to each other, sometimes offering their last blanket, or buying someone a coffee with their last coins. No doubt, it’s a messy kind of love, but it’s one that has kept them alive through the oppressive heat, humidity, and rain over the past few months, teaching them what it means to place your life in the hands of another for survival. There are some hidden encampments across our city; I know of one where members of the transgender community huddle together – our teams know each one of them by name, honour their pain and are doing all they can for them. I also want to thank all the locals who take the time to stop and chat with their new neighbours. You gotta love this city.
It’s Valentine’s Day next week, and I invite you to join us in extending this gesture of love and dignity to our friends on the street. Forget the flowers and chocolate, the giving, in love, of a clean pair of undies and socks to someone who has endured a night on the streets can turn a dark day around. Many people arrive at Wayside with just the clothes on their back, and you’d be surprised how something as simple as fresh underwear can lift someone’s spirits.
We hand out over 2,000 pairs of new underwear each month, which is why we need help to stock our drawers for the year ahead. If you make a Valentine’s Day donation, you will be helping us share the love 365 days a year. And nothing says ‘I love you’ like a clean pair of undies!
Thank you for being part of our Inner Circle,
Rev. Jon OwenCEO & Pastor Wayside Chapel