Friends, a home and acceptance

Sydney can be a cold city in more ways than one, and never more so than if you live on the margins or are homeless. Yet for decades, one community has created a space where those who’ve done life tough can be drawn into the warmth of God’s love.

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A visitor takes a walk down memory lane as he leafs through snapshots of friends of David’s Place over the years. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
A visitor takes a walk down memory lane as he leafs through snapshots of friends of David’s Place over the years. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

The spiritual and fellowship community of David’s Place is thriving under the leadership of Sydney Catholic Sue Buckingham despite doing it tough through the pandemic.

Some of the city’s poorest and marginalised people have gathered each week at the inner city outreach for more than 20 years, forming friendships and finding peace in a network of other vulnerable people and their supporters.

It’s a quiet work of mercy centred on the Gospel and the Eucharist, supported by the Archdiocese of Sydney and a number of parishes, the Jesuits who are responsible for St Canice’s parish in Elizabeth Bay where the ministry is based, and others.

“We often say that because street people have ‘time’ they are called to be the contemplatives in the world …”

Last years’ long lockdown increased the isolation of many in the David’s Place community and was an intensely frightening time for some.

But at David’s Place they framed it as a time of “enforced retreat” which gave people – who kept in touch by phone, email and pastoral visits – more time to appreciate the many small gifts in life.

“We often say that because street people have ‘time’ they are called to be the contemplatives in the world – they have time to see, listen and pray,” Sue says.

Sydney Bishop Daniel Meagher, at right, chats with visitors to David’s Place. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Sydney Bishop Daniel Meagher, at right, chats with visitors to David’s Place. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“Poor and marginalised people often don’t have a way of expressing their spirituality and developing their prayer life. And so what I felt called to and decided to do, inspired by the Jesuit priest Fr Brian Stoney and our co-founder Paul Taylor felt the same way, was to provide a place where their prayer and spirituality would be taken seriously.

“And for ourselves it’s a way of coming in contact with our own poverty, because for us a little bit of money and social position enables us to hide ourselves from God and others.”

Bishop Daniel Meagher, a friend of David’s Place said the work Sue does is “tireless”.

“Sue is absolutely remarkable in getting them together for coffee and other outings and prayer gatherings, celebrating birthdays and organising to pay for funerals.”

“These include very vulnerable people, older people suffering various forms of mental illness, physical impairments or addictions, living in big housing commission estates or trying to get off the streets,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

“Sue is absolutely remarkable in getting them together for coffee and other outings and prayer gatherings, celebrating birthdays and organising to pay for funerals.

“I like that David’s Place is religious, they have a lot of faith and wisdom to share.

Paul & Judy Taylor, Sue and Lewis Buckingham & Peter McAulay – founders of David’s Place

“The people there and who I have come across in other places I’ve frequented on streets and in parks lead me very closely to God.

“They don’t have a lot of layers upon them and so often speak from the heart. They support each other and are very accommodating of each other’s views.”

Sue was a young woman at university “reading a lot of Thomas Merton” when she felt called to live her Catholic faith in different way.

“Sue was raising six children with her husband Louis in Sydney’s north west when an opportunity opened for her to establish a home for the poor under the name David’s Place with Paul in Surry Hills in 1999.”

“I’d seen that where the action was as far as living my faith was concerned, was in some kind of combination of contemplative prayer and being with the poor,” she said.

Sue was raising six children with her husband Louis in Sydney’s north west when an opportunity opened for her to establish a home for the poor under the name David’s Place with Paul in Surry Hills in 1999.

Today there are several weekly prayer gatherings in a room with a kitchenette supplied by St Canice’s parish and other inner city locations, scripture study, a monthly Mass, an outreach to the less faith-minded in the form of coffee shop meetings and lunch outings plus other excursions and annual spiritual retreats.

Prayers written on banner flags - Nepalese style - for blessings and peace on earth. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Prayers written on banner flags – Nepalese style – for blessings and peace on earth. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“David means ‘beloved’ or beloved of the Lord, so we hope that everybody who comes will feel that they’re loved and accepted and will come to know that they’re the beloved child of the Father and brother of Jesus,” Sue says.

“It’s not about being nice to all people. It’s not about providing food or clothing or services. It’s about spirituality.

“If you look at the Gospels, the place where you would most often find Jesus is with marginalised people on the outskirts of the town, with the lepers and the sick, the prostitutes and the tax collectors.

“One of the ways in which people are led into a deeper relationship with Jesus, and which is seen in the Gospels, is by allowing themselves to be part of a community with marginalised people …”

“There are a lot of ways that we can be led into a deeper spirituality, a deeper personal relationship with Jesus.

“Most of them involve things that we wouldn’t want to wish on anybody, like a life-threatening car accident, or a bout with cancer.

“However, one of the ways in which people are led into a deeper relationship with Jesus, and which is seen in the Gospels, is by allowing themselves to be part of a community with marginalised people, and being their friends on the basis of equality.

Archbishop Fisher OP talking to a patron from David’s Place at the 2019 Street Feast of the Archdiocese of Sydney. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“Then you discover your own inner poverty, you discover where Jesus is really waiting for you deep within yourself, you become more open to sharing your real self with those around you.

“To love those around you, to be forgiving because many marginalised people are much more forgiving than the rest of us, and we learn that we can live without having very much.”

Bishop Meagher and The Catholic Weekly dropped in to David’s Place last Friday where the participants said they come to pray together, for progress in their spiritual journey, for good company and friendship, to discuss the Gospels, in order to “work out my salvation” or because “I want to get to heaven”.

“We help each other here, and I’m very happy to meet all the different people who come here including the many priests and the bishops who come and bring us their knowledge, who pray for us and say Mass for us.”

Victor said it was the best place he had found which offered relaxation, friendship and opportunities to learn more about religion and how to practice Christian meditation.

“We help each other here, and I’m very happy to meet all the different people who come here including the many priests and the bishops who come and bring us their knowledge, who pray for us and say Mass for us,” he said, adding that “Sue is our Mother Teresa”.

Lyubomir (Joe) said he’s happy to belong because it’s “teaching me how to accept people just as they are”.

Scenes from daily life: Sue Buckingham, (left to right, below) listens to Joe, a David’s Place regular, during a Friday night prayer gathering reflecting on the Gospel for Trinity Sunday. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Scenes from daily life: Sue Buckingham, (left to right, below) listens to Joe, a David’s Place regular, during a Friday night prayer gathering reflecting on the Gospel for Trinity Sunday. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“This is what Jesus did and it’s what he described if you read Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 22 about the king who asked his servants to go out to the streets and gather whoever they could find for the wedding banquet. Here we can speak freely, nobody is hiding themselves,” he said.

“I like to talk about God, I’ll communicate with anybody about God.

“Here we have different understandings and opinions but it’s ok because we are each able to have our say and we listen to each other.”

“David’s Place welcomes donations to cover costs of up to $40,000 annually for its gatherings including food and travel …”

Sue has three dreams for David’s Place. To purchase a bus for regular outings and to have a volunteer driver who would also manage its maintenance; to draw young adults (senior school and university students) into the community’s life on a regular basis; and of a volunteer who might be mentored to take on her role when she’s no longer able to fulfil it, if the unique street ministry is meant to continue for another generation.

David’s Place welcomes donations to cover costs of up to $40,000 annually for its gatherings including food and travel as well as for its largest expense, which is the funerals of community members.

For details and how to donate to or support David’s Place visit www.davidsplace.com.au