Sometimes in the life of Olive Way it’s not the big, noticeable, or obvious events that are causes for celebration. Sometimes the small ‘noticings’ are equally powerful. The act of noticing, the awareness of those small graces, can often be the thing that helps enable me to keep going in my ministry here at Olive Way. After many years of doing urban ministry in various locations in the South Eastern suburbs, I learnt to take notice of those small transformations in the (seemingly) glacial pace of urban mission. 

I was asked this question in my most recent supervision session about those small graces, those small gifts that keep me going in what I do. Usually I have to stop and think about it, but that day I was immediately aware of one of these small gifts. 

Since COVID we have had a regular guest at Olive Way, whom I’ll call Justin. Prior to the lockdowns Justin would regularly attend Brunswick Salvos, but never Olive Way. He’s homeless, lives under a bridge in Richmond, and receives no Jobseeker or DSP.  He’s a bit gruff (as you might expect), but friendly and immensely intelligent. He’s one of those guys you want on your table on pub quiz night, he’ll earn you a few extra points. Justin really relies on places like Olive Way, and wherever else he can get a bit of assistance.

But one odd thing about Justin was that he would rarely say my name, and if he did it was a kind of ‘mumbled mention’. I don’t quite know what that was about; we’ve had plenty of good conversations, and lively (but good-spirited and friendly) debates from time to time. It didn’t bother me, I just found it strange. 

Just last Thursday on our coffee morning Justin was there with a few others. Thursdays are always quiet; I love them for that very reason. We are able to go much further in conversation with people at a much slower pace. This particular morning we had a great conversation between Justin, Joseph and myself (and a few others would pipe up from time to time). It was a warm and pleasant atmosphere. At the end of the day as they were getting ready to head up to the lunch at the Lamb Cafe Justin said clearly, ‘See you next week Peter’. I was a bit surprised but bid him farewell. 

Perhaps it was the slower, unhurried conversation of the morning, or the slow building of trust over the past couple of years that felt like a kind of affirmation or acknowledgement. It’s such a tiny thing, but for me that warm embrace of community, where defences are dropped, pretensions are abandoned, and love is found can create openings where they otherwise would not be found…well…that’s the hope anyway…

Peter Blair, Olive Way Pastor