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Wesley Central Mission

Opened in Wesley Church, Lonsdale Street, in 1893, the Wesley Central Mission was the local manifestation of the Forward Movement, the Wesleyan Methodist response to the perceived gap between the church and the working classes. With the Reverend Alexander Edgar (1850-1914) as its founding superintendent, the mission embarked on an innovative program which added social reform to the more traditional inner-city mission diet of lively worship, outdoor relief and institutional care. The Pleasant Sunday Afternoons, which ran from 1893 to 1969, were broadcast nationally on radio from the 1920s, offering the pulpit to speakers from across the political spectrum, providing a focus for Anti-Sweating campaigns in the 1890s, the wowser cause in the 1900s and loyalist speakers during and after World War II. The longest serving superintendent, the Reverend Sir C. Irving Benson (1897-1980), was proud of his ability to attract prime ministers and visiting dignitaries who were keen to put their views on such a national stage in the era before television.

Unable, because of financial constraints, ever to raze the church and begin anew, the mission augmented existing buildings both on and off site to develop services in the areas of boy and female rescue, homelessness, disability, ageing and alcohol and drug use, often staffed by members of the women's religious order, the Sisters of the People. Under the superintendency of the Reverend Arthur Preston, which began in 1968, the mission began to move to non-residential services, a process which intensified in 1982 when the appointment of the Reverend Kevin Green (1931-98) saw the organisation embark on a process of deinstitutionalisation. While Lifeline and Do-Care represent the public face of the mission, a range of smaller services focused on contemporary needs reflects the commitment of the congregation, volunteers and employees of this Uniting Church agency to match word and deed in service to Melbourne.

Shurlee Swain

Howe, Renate, and Shurlee Swain, The challenge of the city: The centenary history of Wesley Central Mission 1893-1993, Hyland House, Melbourne, 1993. Details