A place for the angels of our better natures: Malcolm Turnbull and Animal (Randall Nelson). Photo: Dean Sewell
A priest, two politicians and Dick Smith walk into a chapel. But it's not the set-up for a joke.
On Sunday, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek were there for the colourful 50th birthday celebrations for the Wayside Chapel, a much-loved Sydney institution.
The Chapel began as a ''social experiment'' in 1964, taking spiritual and social support to the streets of Kings Cross. One-and-a-half million troubled souls later, Wayside remains true to the vision of founder Ted Noffs: loving everyone for who they are and taking anyone who walks through its doors.
Cake and care: Tanya Plibersek hands out the birthday cake at a street party with Wayside Chapel chief executive Reverend Graham Long. Photo: Dean Sewell
The recently-renovated chapel building hosted a street party, featuring police officers dancing in uniform, bikies nibbling on sausage sandwiches, and young kids squealing with joy at a jumping castle and petting zoo.
Sitting by the chapel's door were heavily tattooed local identities Animal and the Reverend. Despite his intimidating appearance, the Reverend (real name Todd Hayes) lives next door to the Chapel and often drives those without transport to appointments or to visit their families.
Cecilia Couke, a frequent visitor affectionately dubbed by staff ''the Interrupter'', lived up to her name as Ms Plibersek took the stage. ''I love her ideas, let me tell you why …'' she called out over the packed crowd. ''Thank you, my darling,'' Wayside chief executive Reverend Graham Long responded when Ms Couke interjected again.
The crowd cheered and clapped as Ms Plibersek, Mr Turnbull and Mr Long cut a large cake.
Mr Long spoke about how the Wayside had saved him after the untimely death of his son, James, a few years ago. A homeless man, Gaz, had stopped Mr Long on the way to a meeting before giving him a hug and telling him it was from James. Later, when Gaz himself died, his funeral was held in the Wayside Chapel, with hundreds forming a guard of honour and applauding as Gaz was taken away in a hearse.
''That touched my soul,'' Mr Long said.
Words from Mr Long hung in the air: ''Every life, when you know the full story, is worth a standing ovation.''