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Mission Australia celebrates 160 years since Sydney City Mission opened

On July 11, 2022, Mission Australia will celebrate 160 years since Sydney City Mission first opened its doors. The day kicks off Mission Australia’s Founding Purpose Week, when staff will celebrate the charity’s work which, for more than 160 years, has been inspired by Jesus and aims to address persistent disadvantage and vulnerability within Australian society.

Sydney City Mission was founded by British immigrant businessman, Benjamin Short on July 11, 1862 with prominent community members including John Fairfax, and clergy from various denominations, and was based on the same model as London City Mission.

Benjamin Short was distressed by the poverty and deprivation he saw on the streets of Sydney. His earlier involvement with the London City Mission and his strong faith led him to gather business and civic leaders to found the Sydney City Mission 160 years ago.

At that time, there was no income support safety net. If City Missions, and other benevolent organisations like them were not there to support destitute families and individuals, they faced starvation.

An article published in the Sydney Morning Herald covered the meeting held to establish the Sydney City Mission at Temperance Hall on Pitt St in Sydney’s CBD.

Echoing Mission Australia’s Founding Purpose, the chairman opened the meeting by reminding those gathered that the immorality of the lower classes should not be their focus, instead they should consider the conditions that cause it.

Benjamin Short then implored the crowd to support the Mission’s founding because “the Christian Churches of Sydney cannot be held guiltless if they neglect to stretch out a helping hand to rescue those who are perishing around them”.

Mr Justice Wise said it was “desirable that all classes, clergymen and laymen, should join in the movement about to be made for the amelioration of the condition of the poor of the city”.

A resolution was then passed to found the Sydney City Mission, noting the “design of this society is to promote the extension of Evangelic religion, without reference to denominational distinctions”. The mission would also seek to “promote the present and everlasting welfare of the degraded and outcast”.

Decades later during the recession of 1890 and the Great Depression of the 1930s, Mission halls overflowed with people in need. Over time, City Missions adapted and changed how they cared for those who had fallen on hard times. What started out as handouts and “soup lines” were replaced with structured programs that looked at the causes of problems and seek to find and advocate for long-term solutions.

In 1996, Sydney City Mission merged with other City Missions in Adelaide, Perth, Wagga Wagga and Wollongong to form Mission Australia, with Brisbane joining Mission Australia in 1998.

Today, Mission Australia is a large, purpose-driven and values-led national Christian charity working with vulnerable people in communities across Australia. Focused on a goal to end homelessness and support people and communities to thrive, over the past year, Mission Australia has supported more than 152,000 people through 475 services and programs around Australia, thanks to the work of almost 2,320 staff, more than 800 volunteers, and supporters.

Mission Australia’s CEO, Sharon Callister said, “Mission Australia truly stands on the shoulders of giants. Certainly, none of us would be serving people at their time of need through Mission Australia if it wasn’t for Benjamin Short’s action, compassion and vision 160 years ago.

“During our Founding Purpose Week, we’re celebrating and giving thanks for Benjamin Short’s legacy, while continuing to ensure our work remains driven by our Founding Purpose which is relevant as it was more than 16 decades ago: ‘Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God.’

“Everyone at Mission Australia remains committed to achieving our goal to end homelessness and ensure people and communities in need can thrive. While we celebrate our past, we look forward, doing all we can to change the futures of thousands of people across Australia who are currently vulnerable and in need of care and support.

“Mission Australia believes a person’s circumstances shouldn’t define their future and with the right support, everyone can thrive.”


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