21
Sep
2017
yPevU
Dear Inner Circle,

After much consideration and with the sincerest belief that the next ten years should be our strongest, I have informed the Board of Wayside and the Uniting Church that now is the right time to start looking for the new person to lead Wayside. This is not a sudden decision, but the result of consultation and careful planning. Uniting Ministers negotiate their placements every five years. Currently, I have served for 14 years and my term is due to cease at the end of 2018. Succession is a most important matter and given the history and trajectory of Wayside, it is vital that we achieve a smooth generational handover. Making the decision now allows us to conduct an appropriate transition.

I have made the decision knowing in my head and heart that this is the right time.

When I was first employed at Wayside our building was rubble, our finances were difficult at best, and we had a tiny team of staff. We have come so far. With the help of volunteers, staff and our supporters, the next generation of Wayside’s leaders can take our mission further and deeper into the community. This is important, not just for the sake of Wayside as an organisation, but for the sake of the people we serve and for the people whose humanity flourishes when they get involved with us to create a community of no ‘us and them’.

Keep reading here.
14
Sep
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A relationship exists between humour and suffering. It’s not that suffering is funny, but that there is something awesome about the human spirit that learns through suffering to recognise the humour. It’s the joy of declaring that the “emperor has no clothes,” or the joy that comes from just the sheer presence of others. At Wayside, it is among Aboriginal people that you will most often find sharp cries of pain but also the resounding sound of laughter. This week I was invited to our ‘Mob Lunch’, run by our Aboriginal Program Manager, Mon. This weekly event is so much more than just an opportunity to eat a meal, it’s a marvellous exercise in community development and brings together rich diversity of stories and people sitting side by side. I ended up next to a fellow with a dry sense of humour who began to tell me how to cook an emu. I’m wasn’t sure how seriously to take the cooking advice but I asked questions like, “How do you catch an emu?” A detailed explanation was given about how you entice an emu to come to you. He then described how to leave the animals above the fire, so that when smoke emerged from its mouth, you’d know it was cooked. Still unsure if any of this was serious, I asked how the cooked emu tasted. My mate said, “Oh, it tastes just like wombat!” I think when I left the room, I might have been the joke.

Minutes ago, I was in our café. I began a conversation with a lovely bloke who started to share how deeply he’d been in the grip of depression. We were joined by another lovely old fellow who jumped into the conversation. His voice is rather loud and so it was not a contribution that could be ignored. The new fellow to the table was not in any way psychotic and yet his contribution bore no connection to the conversation into which he jumped. I asked several probing questions in the hope that there might have been a connection that I couldn’t quite make out. There wasn’t. We were then...[read more]
07
Sep
2017
IMG_4275
Dear Inner Circle,

Grandchildren give away family secrets without knowing it. One of my babies asked as we got into the car, “Can we go speedy of one hundred?” My reply was something like, “It’s my job to keep you safe sweetheart, so we won’t be going too fast”. She answered that with, “Well, Mummy does!” Another time, our four-year-old hopped into her seat and said, “Shall we keep our windows up so that people don’t hear us yell, ‘IDIOT!’”

Just ten minutes ago, a tall fellow in a large cowboy hat approached me out the front of Wayside. I expected him to bellow at me but instead a soft voice said, “I need a blessing. Can you do that?” We walked to the Chapel and sat awkwardly looking at one another. In these situations, I’m always shy about leading people to believe in magic. Any blessing is just a feature of a relationship. With some trepidation I asked, “Why are you needing a blessing?” I expected to hear a story of a looming court date or some health crisis or even just a naive hope that good can be conjured, like a rabbit out of a hat. To my surprise the softly-spoken man said, “I just want to know there is something outside of me; something bigger than me”. We held hands while I recited some ancient words. The big bloke seemed relieved and thanked me. We’d never met before today, but we both walked away changed and lifted.

Keep reading here.
31
Aug
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A young man could see that I was trying to leave last night even though there were plenty of people who were determined to have a few minutes with me before I took off. The fellow made a loud announcement about how I was being called away to something urgent (he had no idea where I was going) and put his arm around me to assist my exit onto Hughes Street. He decided to walk with me to the corner, to fill me in on some news he was keen to share. We turned the corner and began the walk up towards the fountain and he kept walking with me. I said, “I thought you were just coming to the corner”. “Yeah,” he said, “Didn’t you see those coppers?” There were two policemen walking on the other side of the road. My mate said to me, “If you change direction in the sight of cops, they just think something is wrong and they follow you wherever you go.” You can have this tip for free - don’t change direction when in the sight of cops.

Twenty years ago, I helped a woman find a spot in a refuge. She was fleeing from a history of domestic violence. I remember this so well because the woman, who was softly spoken and seemed to exude kindness, only spoke Polish. She had a four-year-old son who spoke fluent English and Polish. All our communication happened through this little boy. Speaking to the distraught mother through the skill of her little boy caused me to be in awe of the child before me. At just four years old, you could see the goodness in this little kid. I’ve lost touch with the family but have heard indirectly that the mother had settled well, that she was a good manager of money and had found a comfortable house and made friends with many neighbours. I had heard that the boy had grown into a fine man who continued to show the same care for his mum. This was a fine young man, who had developed an addiction. It meant he never had money, even though he was always in work. He never stole from anyone and endlessly supported...[read more]
24
Aug
2017
IMG_3998
Dear Inner Circle,
A gorgeous Aboriginal lady stopped me in the street this morning. “You know I’m a spiritual woman, don’t you?” “Yes. I know it and I love it,” I replied. “Well,” she said, “Lately I’ve been dreaming about you. I saw some long grass and you were laying down in it. As I was looking at you, you turned into a butterfly, a white butterfly, and then you flew off into a rainbow”. After a bit of a pause she said, “I don’t think you’re going to be with us for long”. We both paused for a bit while her kindly eyes penetrated deeply into my soul. “That day will be a bit like falling in love,” I said. “How do you mean?” “Well, when you fall in love, you never really know what you’re getting into but you know every cell of your being is being called and you just trust that it is being called to something good”. She started to smile. “I don’t know if I’ve got a long time or a short time but I think the day I fly off into a rainbow will be a good day”. Her face broke into the broadest smile and she said, “For me too”.

After the lovely moment shared with this Aboriginal woman, I turned to walk on to Wayside, and she called out, “Can you help me?” She rarely misses an opportunity to ask me for money. I opened my wallet, quite confident that it was empty and was shocked to find I had ten dollars. “Ten dollars would be good,” she said. “Gosh,” I said, “How much might this have cost me if you had good news?”

Keep reading here
03
Aug
2017
IMG_3666
Dear Inner Circle,

A flash-looking bicycle circled around me and came to a skilful stop at the fence of our front garden. Only when the fellow got off the bike did I recognise a face that has been absent at Wayside for some time. The young man threw his arms around me and then moved to our deck in a gesture that showed he was exhausted. In just a second I made up several stories in my head about where this fellow had been. I looked at his sophisticated bike and began to wonder how he’d obtained such an expensive thing. In two seconds, I’d constructed a story of prison and a bike that had been “borrowed”. Thankfully I didn’t ask any questions before he started to tell me how he’d been working delivering furniture. He told me that it was the heaviest work that he could have ever imagined. He told me of lumping insanely heavy lounges up flights of skinny stairs. Eventually I said, looking at his bike, “Well at least you’ve got something to show for all that hard work.” “Yeah,” he said, “I’ve got jelly legs and a heart attack.”

If I were a rich man, I would have been at the Menin Gate in Belgium this week to remember the hundred-year anniversary of the battle known by most as “Passchendaele” or what some books call, “The Third Battle of Ypres”. In 1917, more rain fell on this battlefield than had fallen for seventy years, creating a version of hell unimagined before this time. Men and horses that fell into the mud could not be pulled out and a slow drowning followed, often as the soldier begged his mates to put a bullet in his head to speed up the process. The rain was so heavy that General Haig noted that it spoiled a tea party he held for his highest-ranking officers. Half a million people died in a fight to take a site of no strategic value, which was abandoned just weeks after it was taken. I stood at the Menin Gate a few years ago and thankfully no one tried to be wise. No one in uniform tried to say that something...[read more]
13
Jul
2017
IMG_3436
Dear Inner Circle,

On Tuesday I had to duck out for an appointment and in the middle of the footpath, two blocks from here, I saw a fellow very clearly under the influence of some substance. I knew him by sight but I don’t think we’ve ever spoken. I crouched down next to him, hoping to engage in some way. “It’s got me Rev". Without thought I said, “Step one might be to call this thing by its real name”. Although we exchanged these syllables, there was really no conversation. The “it” that had him should be called severance or alienation. Eventually, I walked away a bit disappointed that I’d sounded so judgmental. The world is full of good people who use drugs. Humanity, for as long as history has been recorded, has used substances for various purposes. I guess there has always been some who fall into addiction. Addiction seems to develop when someone latches onto one good and calls it the whole good. In this way, I’ve seen fitness fanatics forfeit life and I’ve seen religious fanatics forfeit life in just the same way as a heroin addict. The problem isn’t in the substance but in what’s missing. Generally, addicts lack a balance of friendships, exercise, relaxation, play, learning, hobbies, sleep, religion or philosophy. It seems to me that the good of life is multiple and a good life is a whole life, with a balance of all these things.

Few announcements come with more relief than when I can tell you at this time of year that we reached our goal for our Winter Appeal. Every year we set our goal, and I think as the leader and someone of some faith, I ought to be pumping up our troops like a football coach, saying, “Come on people, we can do this!” The truth is that I’m the one on the team who is most intimidated by the task and quietly whisper under my breath, “Only a miracle.” So I pay tribute to our donors. Some of our donors are wealthy. I don’t think I’d met any wealthy people before I started work at Wayside. The...[read more]
06
Jul
2017
IMG_3351
Dear Inner Circle,

A university student, who was such an achiever that a “high distinction” was her minimum expectation, used to regularly help out our marketing team for a few years. No matter the task we gave her, the quality of her work exceeded anything we hoped to receive. A couple of years ago, she sat in my office, despondent because although a career as a brilliant lawyer was assured, she felt like life had been postponed or even missed. She decided to take a couple of years away from a singular focus on academia and took a job overseas. She threw herself into law in a third world country whose history and legal complexities are dazzling, depressing even. Her goal was not just to encounter the world but to make space in her life for people. She sat in my office this week and I didn’t say much because I was awestruck. The one thing I said multiple times was, “There is so much more of you now". She joked that she’d put on weight, but even that was a lovely observation because she used to be hauntingly skinny. I was witness to a transformation and it would catch the breath of anyone who had eyes to see. I’m sure her parents are awestruck too. For an hour this week, I think I knew the wonder that they must have known when they first met their baby and before they gave her a name.

This is NAIDOC Week which is always big in the Wayside calendar. Every day this week has a special event of some kind. Our Aboriginal community have put on an art show and our hall buzzed when they opened it with love to our community. The buzz level then increased considerably yesterday when a celebratory lunch was held in Kings Cross. Today there will be another lunch celebration at Bondi and on Friday a special football match held in Redfern. NAIDOC Week has nearly a hundred years of history. It’s a week where we celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements, and we recognise the importance of all of this for every person who...[read more]
29
Jun
2017
IMG_2937
Dear Inner Circle,

Not one face was familiar when I walked in this morning. There was a lady dressed as Father Christmas doing some vigorous exercises, I guess, in preparation for December. There was a fellow squatted on the ground, holding his head in his hands like his world had utterly collapsed. One fellow made a bee line for me and said, “Are you in charge?” “That’s the rumour,” I said, “although I spend most of my days doing what I’m told”. My humour was lost on him. He said, “I’ve been studying the First World War…” “Well, let’s have a cup of tea and talk about it because it’s one of my favourite subjects”. We’d not said more than a couple of sentences before I realised he knew nothing of the First World War. “Well tell me this then,” he said, “What happens when we die, you know, where do we go and how will I know if I can trust you?” My sense was that he was about as interested in this question as he was the First World War. I said, “What’s up? Are you afraid of dying?” “The last time I felt like this,” he said, “I swallowed six bottles of pills”. Finally! There is nothing more human than a conversation. This man was able to name his fear and we’ve been able to find him some ongoing support.

When they were clearing homeless people from Martin Place last Saturday, I happened to be on the spot. My understanding is that the City of Sydney have been most supportive of the people sleeping rough and have shown great sensitivity to this group. I also understand that the builders on the site have left the need to clear people out of the area until the very last moment. Building is at a stage where it would be unsafe to allow people to stay put. On Saturday that was a massive team from the State Department of Family and Community Services, doing all they could to find better options for people. I’ve heard and read some criticism this week but in my view, good will and sensitivity marked every part of...[read more]
08
Jun
2017
IMG_2618
Dear Inner Circle,

About 90 fresh faces filled our Community Hall for an orientation of new volunteers this week. It's always an honour to speak at these events, although on this occasion, I was squashing the honour between two demanding appointments. Walking into the hall, I was astonished, as I always am, that so many people are keen to be involved with us at Wayside. I was handed a microphone and began looking for my first words when a face in the front row made time stop. In a moment I cared nothing about the pressing appointment in front of me, or even what I was meant to be doing at that very time. A stunning, confident, warm face burst to life when our eyes met. The first time I’d laid eyes on her, years ago, there was no eye contact; the woman couldn't look up from the floor. She was in real trouble. A marriage of abuse and isolation had driven her mad to the point that she burnt her house down with no care about whether the fire took her husband's life or her own. The day we met, she had condemned herself as the lowest of human beings but standing in front of a hall full of people was a young woman, fully alive and keen to serve others at Wayside. Sometimes looking into a face can lead you to, "Wow!" It's awe. I read once that the word, "awe" comes from the sound of our breath when we lift back our heads in wonder.

Our chefs and volunteer cooks at Wayside really do make their food with love. At Bondi people are offered menus and receive table service from the best volunteer wait staff in Sydney. All main dishes cost in the order of one to two dollars but the food is worthy of any restaurant in the main street. I've seen plenty of people taking photos of their food because it is so beautifully presented. One of our chefs at Kings Cross puts so much into his cooking that he thinks his food has the power to heal. Yesterday he sent some chocolate biscuits to the cafe and he called them "electro-choc-therapy-cookies". At the counter of the cafe...[read more]