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Thursday, January 29, 2015

From the Wayside Chapel by Graham Long

Dear Inner Circle,

The good people of Bombala hosted me for their Australia Day celebrations. Sydney’s Kings Cross to the little town of Bombala is quite a cultural contrast. I began my speech by saying, “I walked down your main street last night and I didn’t see a single strip club or massage parlour. What kind of town is this?” I met so many hard working, honest people who mostly reminded me of an Australia that has largely disappeared. The primary activity of the day was shearing sheep. They stopped for a brief speech from me and also from the local Mayor and then they returned to shearing. The comedy act of the day was when they organised for me to shear a sheep. I didn’t want to hurt the poor animal that they put at my feet and so the job I made of shearing was just laughable. It’s an activity that is not kind on your back even to shear one sheep. How these folks are able to shear 200 and even 300 sheep a day is simply beyond my understanding. What an honour to speak with the locals and hear their concerns; to hear about the price of wool; the price of lambs; their vulnerability to weather; their understanding of the role of politicians; their fear about the threat of drugs to their young people. There were some clearly well-heeled people at the gathering and there were some young people whose fitness and strength left me in awe. There were many people who looked like they’d lived out in the weather for 40 years or who hadn’t removed their hats in that time. The main street literally had hundreds of 4x4 trucks and utilities and only one solitary small sedan. Even my car was something of a cultural shock to the street. I’m grateful to have met so many colourful characters and to have learned that should Wayside suddenly come to an end, shearing is not a way that I might make an alternate living.

Chatting in the cafe yesterday, a homeless man insisted on buying me lunch. I tried to talk him into allowing me to buy lunch for him instead. He said, “Think of all the times you’ve helped me in the past month.” “You’re right,” I said, “I’ll have spaghetti and a can of drink.” There are many people in this world who have so little but give so much. One of this city's most notorious criminals wrote to me from prison this week. He earns $20 per week in prison. If I told you the crime he committed, you probably would read no further. He sent me $200 and asked me to give it to someone in need. What an astonishing act of generosity! You can’t hate a whole person. The only way you can hate someone is to take a picture and call it the whole movie.

Sometimes our way is heavy. I’ve done two funerals last week and have three booked for next week. You should put a Wayside funeral on your bucket list. They are often sad, hilarious, deeply moving and inspiring all at once. Most of our eulogies come from voices that are never heard. Almost always, someone will stand and say, “I never met this person but if I had…” Sometimes there is the moving affirmation that, “This person was a bastard but he was my mate and I loved him.” Every now and then my mind plays the hundreds of funerals I’ve done here in fast forward. They are among my most precious memories as I’ve witnessed words of love with no polish and poor expression but almost extracted directly from the heart, bypassing the brain, lungs, throat and mouth. There is often a 'death weariness' to be clearly seen. Many people begin their words with, “How many times can we do this?”

Our team gets better and better at what they do. The other day I went into the cafe to see a table with five men all sitting around our Lisa, learning to sew. I saw our Julian and Katherine in our Twilight Team, sitting on the seats at the front playing some musical instruments. I stayed long enough to see quite a crowd gather. There were a few homeless people who got right into the singing, even shouting at various appropriate spots. There was a neighbour walking home from Woolworths who stopped and picked up a tin whistle to join in the jam. I saw a young mum with a couple of kids stop and join the fun. That was our mission, embodied and lived right there. To see the barriers that normally separate people melt is pure inspiration. Julian and Katherine created a moment where there was no good or bad, in or out, saved or lost, sick or well, housed or homeless. There was, “just us” and I went home more alive for having witnessed this vision of what could be.

That’s enough, thanks for being part of our inner circle,

Rev Graham Long
Pastor and CEO
The Wayside Chapel
Kings Cross

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