Sydney and Wesley Mission celebrate 200 years of Methodism in Australia
One of the earliest meetings of Methodists in New South Wales had its sequel on Sunday, July 15, 2012 when almost 2,000 supporters, donors, volunteers and staff of Wesley Mission marched through the streets of Sydney and gave thanks to God at the State Theatre for the past 200 years of Methodism in Australia.
Celebrate 200 also drew the participation of key church, political and community leaders.
The Sydney Town Crier, Graham Keating, called the crowd to order at Martin Place following a re-enactment of the first meeting of Methodists in the colony — Edward Eagar, who had been transported to Australia, Thomas Bowden and John Hosking — who gathered at The Rocks on March, 1812, to seek God’s guidance for the future of Methodist leadership and growth in the new colony.
More than 750 Wesley Mission supporters, congregation members and staff then marched to the State Theatre in Market Street to join a large audience already gathered and to give public witness to the legacy of the founding faith of Wesley Mission.
The State Theatre was a significant venue for the event: for over a year it hosted the Wesley Mission congregation following a fire at the old Lyceum Theatre during the time of the Rev. Dr Sir Alan Walker’s superintendency.
At the State Theatre the audience sang rousing hymns and Christian songs and watched inspiring video presentations of Wesley Mission’s contemporary work.
Professional drama brought to life the early beginnings of Methodism in Australia which resulted in the Rev. Samuel Leigh arriving in Australia in 1815.
The audience also heard from several keynote speakers who addressed the topics of advocacy, innovation, hope and faith — themes which have given impetus to the life of Wesley Mission.
The Superintendent and CEO of Wesley Mission, the Rev. Dr Keith Garner, said the day helped to make a clear connection with the history of Wesley Mission.
“We have a strong link with those early Methodists who helped shape a church that in turn gave birth to what we now know as Wesley Mission,” Dr Garner said.
“We affirm our life in the Uniting Church, but today acknowledge our magnificent Methodist story. The world has seldom seen a more extraordinary group of Christian men and women than those early Methodist preachers.
“Who could have imagined that such a harvest would have been reaped from the prayers of three people? The results have been seen in the Methodist Church throughout Australia and further mission work across our region, but significantly at Wesley Mission.”
Dr Garner also noted that while Wesley Mission celebrated it had to “take hold the challenges of the future”, particularly in the areas of mental health, homelessness, poverty and aged care.
He also counselled that advocacy remain a core part of the work of Wesley Mission. Wesley Mission had a heritage that had seen it advocate on key issue such as the use of Sunday and days of Christian observance, the dangers of alcohol and other drugs, the White Australia policy, Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the continuing obsession with gambling and the importance of the family.
“Our task is more than raising funds, providing services and conducting worship,” Dr Garner said. “Our faith leads us to be a people who advocate on behalf of those who are all too easily ignored.
“Ours is a distinctive story of faith … on the cutting edge of delivering services to some of the most marginalised in our community … and we have managed to retain a clear Christian purpose. This vision is non-negotiable and sets us apart from many others in the same space.”
Among the keynote speakers at the State Theatre was the Premier of NSW, Barry O’Farrell, who emphasised the need for the community and church sector to work in an integrated way with government.
“We partner with institutions and organisations like the Wesley Mission to get on and do our work,” he said.
Mr O’Farrell acknowledged that Governments could not do all the welfare and community work and organisations like Wesley Mission were well placed to do so.
“I’m not one who believes government can meet the needs of everyone, I’m not one that believes that government should work in isolation” he said. “Collaboration and partnership are important.”
The State Theatre event was hosted by Mark Scott AO, a senior Officer of Wesley Mission and Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who said the afternoon was a celebration of how Wesley Mission served the Lord Jesus Christ in “thought, word and deed”.
The Federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, spoke highly of Wesley Mission’s innovative work in homelessness, mental health, financial and gambling counselling, and through the establishment of Lifeline which now operates in 16 countries around the world.
She praised it for being “on the cutting edge” of service delivery. It even had a ministry and welfare service to the street gangs which roamed the inner-city more than 120 years ago, she said.
“From its earliest days, Wesley mission has adapted to changing social needs,” she said.
“Its mission, service to the disadvantaged, has never changed.
“It did not turn its back on some of the most difficult clients.”
A letter from the Moderator of the Uniting Church in New South Wales and the ACT, the Rev. Dr Brian Brown, was read by Wesley Mission officer Dr Keith Suter who later praised Wesley Mission for the real and practical hope it gave struggling people. “Where there is faith there is life,” he said
Dr Brown noted that the early Methodists had an abiding hope in a sovereign God and shared a commitment to Jesus Christ which had lived on in the hearts and minds of Methodists and those who had served Wesley Mission through the years.
“Little did they realise that the seeds of hope they first planted would flower in successive generations and provide the undergirding faith and impetus which has sustained Wesley Mission,” he said.
“From this hope has sprung forth a faith which seeks to touch the hearts and minds of all Australians — no matter what their background: a faith which embraces both word and deed and gives practical application to ‘the hope that is within.
“Wesley Mission has been a shining beacon of hope, its ministry burning brightly and its care of the marginalised and disadvantaged consistent, innovative and unswerving.”
The audience at the State Theatre also heard the electrifying voice of Silvie Paladino, who produced a powerful rendition of “How great thou” art backed by the Wesley Impact! Band.
Prayers by Wesley Mission’s Senior Minister the Rev. Rick Dacey underlined God’s graciousness to the Methodist Church and the continuing work of Wesley Mission.
The State Theatre service concluded with the cutting of a bicentenary cake by Dr Garner, the Premier of New South Wales Barry O’Farrell, former Superintendent the Rev. Dr Gordon Moyes, and Wesley Mission congregation members Angela Chiu and Lakshman Wijesekera.
Today, Wesley Mission is the largest Uniting Church parish in Australia.
It also has 2,000 staff and 3,000 volunteers working in more than 120 programs of care and support.