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The spirit of The Way

  • 09 September 2022
On a Sunday afternoon in June, just about the shortest day of the year, seventy or eighty people came together in Fitzroy for a quiet party, starting with a Eucharist in All Saints’ Church. We were celebrating The Way, an extraordinary Community which had survived on the smell of an oily rag for forty-three years. It was hard to believe it had lived for so long. It was just as hard to believe that it was finally coming to rest. The Way had been a community of homeless people, built around difficult but wonderful characters. It taught me more than I can easily say.

The Way was always rich in story. I was helping there sometime in the eighties when there was a knock on the front door. This was nothing unusual. The door was answered around the clock, sometimes to deliveries of bread and other donations, sometimes to people in distress, sometimes to people with no other door to knock on to pass the time of day. Br Jack Stamp used to turn up like clockwork with a box of washing powder. Dudah, who ran a zero-stars boarding house across the street, was also a regular. She charged extortionate rates for what were not rooms but more like cages; the dividing walls were made of cyclone fencing. There was a lot of violence at Dudah’s and the mattresses she supplied were often stained with blood. She often seemed indifferent to her clients. But when someone was sick, she’d come across and let us know.

I still have a Tupperware flask that turned up in a box of donations. Somebody had written on it the words ‘a mouthful of emptiness’. I still wonder what the message may have meant. Once, somebody donated trays of vanilla slices, the old type of square blocks from which you could have built a house. They wobbled a bit so the house would have been good in an earthquake. Word went around the streets and for days people came asking for their slice.

In my early days, I opened the door to a man called Belfast Bill who often interrupted Mass at All Saints with alternative views to the sermon. He came every week to make sure the congregation knew he was an atheist and that, nevertheless, he loved the mother of God. His face was a jigsaw that told the story of his painful life; his accent