‘Why, on a Sunday night, are we sitting under a bridge?’
The question was aptly put by Major Brendan Nottle * to approximately 50 Salvationists, Salvation Army employees and clients, as they sat in a public park at 9 p.m. under the Bolte Bridge.
Hope - Econnect interviews Brendan Nottle.PDF
As the Citylink traffic passed them overhead, and yachts and party boats sailed down the Yarra River, the answer became apparent: the Salvos were there to pray for Melbourne’s homeless community and to thank God for the opportunity to serve them.
The venue was selected because it is a favourite spot for the major to sit, meditate and talk with God, often in the early hours of the morning.
‘The last 6-12 months have been the hardest of our 16 years working in the city at 614,’ he shared.
Melbourne is a city that is becoming an increasing exemplar of inequity and discontent. With the growing gap between rich and poor, we have seen a stable rate of robberies and increasing rates for ‘break ins’ and physical assaults between 2015-2016; this is against a scene of a decreasing overall crime rate, as shown by the ABS’ annual crime victimisation survey.
Inequity is increasingly visible; witness the tragic death of three homeless persons in a suspicious Footscray factory fire on 1 March. It followed the forced eviction of homeless persons from a community outside the Flinders Street railways station on 1 February, and the removal of some 130kg of their personal possessions (while it is not against the law to be homeless, to sleep or sit in the street, it is illegal to camp in the streets).
In the face of such volatility and need, prayer and gospel songs may seem a strange approach to addressing homelessness and injustice. But Major Nottle suggested prayer was the motivation that could propel churches to challenge the status quo, the means by which people could rekindle hope in their lives**, and the catalyst that could lead to social change.
‘With God, everyone’s welcome at the table,’ he said. ‘The Salvation Army was a group of people that left the buildings, the churches, and took the light of God to dark places… we believe God wants people’s lives to be completely changed in form.’
Major Sandra Nottle, quoting the salvos co-founder, General William Booth, said that ‘Making heaven on earth is our business… amidst your joys, don’t forget the sons and daughters of misery… do you ever visit them?
‘We will pity them, feed them, reclaim them, employ them…. Let us hasten to the rescue.’
The #newarmyrising campaign looks to encourage Salvationists and fellow Christians to pray for the city of Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, and to match their prayers to God with complementary actions to help the poor and homeless people who are their neighbours.
One symbolic prayer activity – the distribution of pieces of cardboard to write on – was a reminder, as visiting Salvation Army officer Captain Kris Halliday said, that ‘underneath the headlines are stories of real life people, who often have no more than a piece of cardboard to rest their head on, to shelter them from the rain and wind.’
‘A piece of cardboard keeps them an inch off God’s earth – it shouldn’t be the standard we accept,’ added Salvation Army worker Anthony McEvoy.
As people spoke and shared their stories and cups of coffee, and as the trucks and cars continued to roll on overhead, the talk was of how #newarmyrising could take shape in people’s lives and missions.
* For 16 years, Majors Brendan and Sandra Nottle have been the corps officers of The Salvation Army’s Melbourne Project 614 Corps at 69 Bourke Street.
** View below Major Brendan Nottle’s discussion of the need for hope in people’s lives
Hope - Econnect interviews Brendan Nottle.docx