Dear Inner Circle,

I want to tell you the story of how a life was saved on Saturday night on the streets of Kings Cross. The beginning of the end arrived when a compassionate local resident found a man lying on the road and, seeing that he was not in good condition, took action by running into our community service centre, alerting some of our courageous staff who quickly sprung into action to administer Narcan and CPR to save his life. The man had overdosed.

This story began 20 years earlier.

1999. Sydney was in the middle of a public health crisis and the streets of Kings Cross were the epicentre of it. There is an alleyway that runs behind Wayside Chapel, and in the 90s it was ironically named, ‘Hope Lane’. On a weekly basis, we would find a dead body in Hope Lane, another life lost to the heroin crisis. The AIDS epidemic was also at its height and the government was under pressure to act, but the debate and ideologies of the left and right combined to produce inaction.

At times of crisis like these, we can either debate and discuss in ways that drive us further left, further right, or we can go deeper through to take action. Rev Ray Richmond (former Pastor and CEO of Wayside 1991 – 2004), employed an evidence-based approach that could save lives, so in an act of civil disobedience, he established the Tolerance Room here at Wayside. This has now become the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) in a location nearby. From there they have supervised over one million injections and provide clean equipment which has radically reduced disease transmission and deaths from overdose. This facility also regularly provides training for dealing with overdose and in Narcan use. All of this was essential for Saturday night, which saved the life of an anonymous young man having a bad night in the Cross. We haven’t seen him before, nor do I suspect, will we see him again. I am grateful that one of the worst nights of his life wasn’t his last, and I’m sure his family are too.

All power is related to proximity; when you are close to the top you protect those interests, when you’re close to the gutter you do the same. Where you stand determines what you see. At Wayside in those days, we were sick of seeing dead bodies. Can you imagine anything more exquisitely agonising than to stand in Hope Lane, gazing upon the lifeless body of someone’s beautiful child? Rev Ray knew that Europe had found better ways to help people than was the case in Sydney. Ray wasn’t content with discussions. Born from the agony of Hope Lane, Ray acted. He was brave. Wayside still works and speaks from the proximity that propelled Ray into action. It’s an honour for me to stand in a place of leadership, on the shoulders of Ted Noffs, Ray Richmond and Graham Long who have stood before me.

This Sunday at 2pm a small group of us will gather in our chapel at Kings Cross, to remember the legacy of a tough little bloke, who suffered ridicule of churches, governments, charities and the press to do right for those who had no voice. If you knew Ray, you’re welcome to join us.

Thanks for being part of our Inner Circle

Jon

Jon Owen
Pastor & CEO
Wayside Chapel

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