What We Say About Ourselves
Belonging to the Waiters Union
My husband and I have thought of ourselves as belonging to the Waiters Union since moving to West End in 2000. We regularly participate in the Monday morning meetings, the weekly community church service, the fortnightly community meal, monthly picnics and six weekly gatherings.
This list of ‘activities' gives the impression of a program-centric organisation and, of course, Waiters is anything but.
The ‘routine' of our involvement with Waiters reflects our preference for structured interactions. So one of our greatest learnings has been from Waiters families who are less activities-focussed but who constantly open up their lives and homes to people in difficult circumstances and often with difficult behaviours. As a consequence we have been challenged to relate more freely and flexibly to friends in our community who face various challenges.
In fact learning from other's lived convictions, rather than conforming to a prescribed set of rules, seems to be the way of Waiters. While our household is not vegetarian, the convictions of vegetarians in the group have caused us to rethink our eating habits and to be far more concerned with the wellbeing of farm animals. While our household does not home school, the practice of this option by some makes us think more deeply about the values we want to impart to our children and the negative cultural influences we want to shield them from. While our household owns a car, the simple lifestyles pursued by others in the group has made us determined to minimise our household's private transport requirements. In other words, my partner and I judge ourselves against the Christ-like practices of others at Waiters, trying to adjust our own values and practices in light of their witness, rather than having ‘authority figures' or a set of rules sit in judgement over us.
It would be misleading not to allude to some of the frustrations we have experienced. Downplaying structure has sometimes led to things falling into a hole. Sometimes we have felt disappointment at the varying priority given to regular fellowship times. But most of the time we are encouraged by the integrity of people associated with the Waiters network in taking on unpopular causes, befriending unpopular people, and embracing unpopular values like humility, simplicity, and sacrifice.
Who knows what the future holds for Waiters. The gentrification of the area has made it difficult for people wanting to live simply and identify with the poor to make their homes permanently in this locality. The irony was not lost on us when the purchase of our house in West End (for more than we hoped to pay) settled in the same week that a hostel whose residents had long standing relationships with Waiters folk, closed its doors. Question marks around Waiters ability to sustain itself and its now iconic programs such as community meal, used to bother me. But now I feel more laid back, a bit more in tune with the original intent of Waiters, which I think is about waiting on those who the mainstream generally passes by, listening, praying, responding, and seeing what happens next.
Being in the Waiters Union for eighteen years
For me the Waiters Union has been a ready-made community network to connect with since 1987. I got to know a couple of members of the network through a protest about rising rents around the time of the 1988 World Expo. Since then I've become friends with quite a few people in the Waiters Union and participated in many activities of the network.
Another big thing the Waiters Union has done for me has been to bring my wife, Judy, and I together. We met at a “community meal” one Friday night many years ago. We got to know each other as friends when we lived in the Bristol Street household. This household was committed to personal growth and justice in our neighbourhood and our world. Living in the Bristol Street household provided a great context to work on my own life and to establish a lasting relationship. Judy and I decided to get married after being friends for many months.
In my time of involvement with the Waiters Union I've had at least three major break-downs (some might say these were a result of my involvement). Seriously, though, these breakdowns have been long painful experiences for me and my family. People from the Waiters Union have helped in many ways. Some have visited me regularly in and out of hospital. Some have supported my wife Judy through these times. A couple of people started a local Grow group which helped significantly with my mental health. Another past member counselled Judy and I through one of my breakdowns.
Currently I'm part of a “men's group” which meets once a fortnight at my place. The group provides a safe space to express our trials and successes, to learn from one another and to offer and receive support. I also see a counsellor from outside the network to help me gain more control over my life.
It was through the support of a couple of people in the Waiters Union that I've been able to create and sustain my self employment. I run a small carpentry business from home. Many of my customers are from the network.
The Waiters Union has been a great network to be involved in over the eighteen years I have lived in West End . I feel I've experienced a level of support that many people wish for. I feel privileged to be a part of it. I think it is quite unique. It has made my life in West End incredibly rich.