Counselling service grew out of clear Christian vision

Counselling service grew out of clear Christian vision

The 50th anniversary of Lifeline provides an opportunity for the telephone crisis counselling service to recommit its vital to work to God, the Superintendent of Wesley Mission, the Rev. Dr Keith Garner said.

Speaking at an anniversary function at Government House, Sydney, Dr Garner, said it was time to offer the work of Lifeline to God again, to face future challenges unafraid and to believe that listening and caring “still constitute the heart of the secret which is Lifeline.”

“What is clear is that Lifeline grew out of a clear sense of Christian vision,” he said. “It was initiated by a remarkable man (the Rev Dr Sir Alan Walker) and was consistent with the Mission principle of reaching out to those on the parameters of the community.”

The March 13 event was hosted by Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of New South Wales and Sir Nicholas Shehadie, and attended by NSW Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Healthy Lifestyles, Minister for Western NSW and State Member for Barwon, Kevin Humphries, Minister for Health, Minister for Medical Research and State Member for North Shore, Jillian Skinner, the Chairman of Lifeline Australia, John Brogden, CEO of Lifeline Australia, Jane Hayden and approximately 100 Lifeline Board members, Wesley Mission Board members, volunteers, and supporters, including some of Wesley Mission’s Lifeline foundation counsellors.

Mr Brogden and Dr Garner thanked the Governor for her kind hospitality, and she spoke warmly of the significant work of Lifeline, which she knew of first hand.

“Wesley Mission has always been in the ministry of caring for the most marginalised and isolated,” Dr Garner said. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Lifeline’s origins are from Wesley Mission.

“Since its earliest beginnings with the work of the early Methodists from 1815 on the streets of Sydney, Wesley Mission has responded to community need in pro-active ways, often breaking convention and stepping out to meet need — despite the risks. The thought of a telephone counselling service for people in crisis was revolutionary for its time.

“The establishment of Lifeline was a response to a changing city and culture. Post war prosperity also brought with it greater isolation as old suburbs changed and new suburbs developed.

“People often moved away from their networks of support, including their extended families. Parents struggling with young children were on their own and so were the elderly and people dealing with mental health issues. One would like to report that things are much better, but these issues continue and are becoming more of a challenge.

The lonely crowd

“Throughout his ministry with the Central Methodist Mission (now Wesley Mission), the Rev. Dr Sir Alan Walker would refer to what he saw as the growing and dangerous effects of isolation occurring in modern society at the time, or, as he frequently referred to it, ‘the lonely crowd’.

“Writing in 1961, he noted: ‘Today there is a larger need; moral, psychiatric, personal, emotional. People and homes are breaking down constantly under the pressure of today’s life. Moral and spiritual poverty take their place beside physical poverty. To the Central Mission come an endless stream of people at the end of their tether.’

“Lifeline, like so many of the ventures at Wesley Mission, would require strong leadership, the genius of innovation and the ability to cast a vision that people could themselves embrace. As the city of Sydney grew, many were languishing on the sidelines of society and the turning point came one Sunday night in Sydney, just after midnight more than 50 years ago, when the telephone rang at our home in Roseville.

“From a desperate call, the tragedy of suicide and a helplessness that was felt by many … the amazing work of Lifeline was born.

“Alan Walker had great compassion for the isolated and he believed that through the establishment of Lifeline the mantle of Christianity would cover ‘a lonely crowd of the modern city’.”

Dr Garner said the establishment of Lifeline was a call to action for the church and “a reminder to all that in the depths of despair and the messiness of life there is God who cares for the whole person … and caring people who are ready to act upon such truth.”

“Alan realised that by creating the telephone counselling service, this ‘mantle’ could be spread over a greater area than ever thought possible,” Dr Garner said. “After all, with ‘help as close as a telephone’, all of Sydney and beyond could benefit from the love and care of Wesley Mission.”

A special meeting was called and 30 people prayed together … and the Lifeline movement had begun. At that meeting a 24-hour counselling team was suggested and soon 150 people, chiefly from the Central Methodist Mission, were enrolled. The Mission secured a Darlinghurst property which was completely refurbished and made suitable.

“We are glad to recognise the work of Lifeline across Australia and throughout the world, but at Wesley Mission we are proud to be the parent body of the birth that has made such a difference,” Dr Garner said.

Since its beginnings in 1963 Lifeline has been established in 19 countries around the world. In Australia, Lifeline centres across the country answered 541,450 calls in 2012. Lifeline Sydney and Sutherland, which is run by Wesley Mission, answered more than 23,000 calls last year

To celebrate Lifeline’s 50th Anniversary a thanksgiving service is being held at the Wesley Mission Auditorium, 220 Pitt St Sydney, on Sunday, March 17 2013 beginning at 6 pm. The service will be led by Wesley Mission Superintendent the Rev. Dr Keith Garner, with many special guests taking part.

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