It’s Thursday at 5.30pm, and soon the Rough Edges café next to St John’s, Darlinghurst will open, welcoming in the homeless and marginalised for the 22nd year running.
But before its cheerful volunteers begin serving tonight’s dinners and coffees, Jesse Mawson is meeting with a handful of regulars for Streetwise – a weekly low-key time to study God’s word, sing and share together.
“We’ve been running this for three to four months now,” Mr Mawson says. “People might think that those who live on the street are not capable of engaging and reflecting on a passage like ‘the rest of us’ but they very much can. Some of the guys in the Bible study have given reflections and drawn on parts of a passage in a way that, because of their experience, none of the rest of us would be able to do.
“As a group we are quite intentional and want to invite people into that space, into something that might be a bit emotionally vulnerable – but also to a place where they can engage in conversations at depth. I’ve taken for granted a [church community] environment that regularly calls me into deep thinking, whereas people on the street, what kind of space or community do they have to engage in conversations at depth? But part of Streetwise is offering a space where they can do that.”
Streetwise began in 1996
Streetwise was part of Rough Edges when it first began in 1996, but it stopped about 18 months ago because the staff member who ran it left the parish. The right person was needed to begin it again, and for Darlinghurst rector the Rev Ed Vaughan that person was Mr Mawson, who began working as a lay assistant minister and Rough Edges chaplain at the beginning of 2018.
“Running Streetwise is a key part of his role, because we regard it as the spiritual heart of Rough Edges,” Mr Vaughan says. “What convinced me [he was right for the job] was his ability to relate to street people and his enthusiasm for Jesus.
“The reality is that this is a really specialist role, and not many people have the capacity to relate to the people we deal with. And he has a really infectious enthusiasm for life. We love working with him!”
Mr Mawson has a Baptist background, and in his final year at college last year was a housing intern for BaptistCare’s Hope Street community centre in Wolloomooloo.
He says he’d felt called to serve there even though he was initially “terrified about how to relate to people on the street”.
“I was working with Hope Street and ‘juvy’ [juvenile detention] out west,” he says. “I had such a limited view of the world and it really opened me up.”
Now, as Streetwise meets each week and he hangs out with Rough Edges patrons at the café, Mr Mawson’s focus is on building community and helping people think about the spiritual aspect of their lives.
“The short and long-term goal is strategy around building the community of Streetwise, which inevitably takes time,” he says.
“We want it to be known that we have a faith community that meets here, and all are welcome, and everyone’s aware of what time it’s on, so that it can come back to having a place at the heart of the Rough Edges community.”