It was an event, in the words of an assistant pastor, where people arrive as strangers but leave as friends.
The Wayside Chapel’s Christmas Day lunch and street party for the homeless was full of strangers but a familiar face in a festive shirt found he was among friends.
In high spirits at the end of the political year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined more than 100 volunteers serving 1000 meals in Potts Point.
At Rev Graham Long’s final Christmas party as pastor of the famous chapel for the lost and lonely, Mr Turnbull handed out plates of food, posed for dozens of selfies then joined the guests dancing along to a DJ.
For the record, the Kinks’ You Really Got Me was the song at the time (apt lyrics: “Don’t ever set me free/I always want to be by your side”) in a DJ set that included such crowd favourites as Dancing In The Street, YMCA andFunkytown.
Threatening rain held off for the lunch, which featured a jumping castle, free haircuts and a photo booth, around a marquee in closed-off Hughes Street.
Mr Turnbull told one guest who asked about his distinctive apparel that he was wearing his “Christmas shirt”.
Patently enjoying the warm reception, he kept returning to the chapel’s kitchen for plates of food then headed back into the crowd for more selfies and handshakes.
Mr Turnbull told Fairfax Media he was a regular at the lunch.
“The Wayside Chapel is a great example of practical and unconditional love,” he said. “That’s what Christmas should be all about.
“Graham Long is an extraordinary leader and a big team – both at the Wayside Chapel and a huge team of volunteers – do a really fantastic job. He’s a very, very good man.”
In a service that followed carol singing, Rev Long delivered a down-to-earth sermon about the importance of finding the “awesome” in life.
“Nothing is more invisible than what is truly awesome,” he said. “You will miss the awesome if you’re the centre of the universe. Just stand back and realise that it’s not all about you.”
Rev Long urged the congregation to think about their priorities.
“We live in a kind of age where we’ve been trained to see what’s missing and then whinge about it,” he said. “So we spend all of our life whinging. And the truth is, it moves you into the centre.
“All you care about is how I feel or what kind of experience I’m having. And that is your guaranteed path to misery.”
Afterwards, Rev Long said there was “a twinge of sadness” about his final Christmas as pastor after 14 years, though he may return as a volunteer for the street party next year.
“There’s a time to come, there’s a time to go,” he said. “And I treasure the times that I’ve had here. It’s just been a blast.”
The pastor is yet to work out what he will do next.
“The whole point of this is to achieve generational change for Wayside,” he said. “Once I know who the successor is – and I won’t know till March – then my life will change dramatically and I’ll start worrying about what’s next.”
Around the tables, there was gratitude for the Wayside’s work helping those who are struggling at Christmas.
“It’s terrific,” said Christopher, who was homeless until two years ago. “It’s a great place to be. A fabulous time and the music helps too.”
At the lunch with her partner, Raelene thought it was a “fantastic” event.
“What a turnout for the community,” she said. “We thought we’d come instead of spending Christmas at home on our own.”