Australia should be proud of the fact that Lifeline began here as the initiative of the Rev Sir Alan Walker. This Methodist minister was fearless at speaking out on things that matter and relentless at working on solutions to the things that trouble us. My friend Ian Palmer who volunteers as a telephone counsellor sent me his reflections on what this 24/7 service has meant for us over the past six decades and OK’d me to share it. It’s an amazing story.
It’s 60 years ago this week that Lifeline was launched by the late Rev’d Dr Sir Alan Walker.
He founded Lifeline in response to a call he received from a distressed man, called Roy Brown, who later took his own life. Walker saw that isolation and lack of support was a major cause of suicide and he was determined to provide assistance for people in despair.
It took two years of thorough preparation to launch Lifeline, a 24-hour crisis support line, in Sydney on 16th March 1963. One hundred and fifty people did nine months of training to become crisis supporters. Professional staff were employed to train, direct, supervise and support those who took calls. A derelict building owned by the Wesley Mission in Sydney was refurbished and phones were installed for this work. The Lifeline number was authorised to be listed on the Emergency Page of Telephone Directories. On the first day over 100 calls were answered.
Today, marking its diamond jubilee, this service is needed more than ever. Lifeline Crisis Supporters answer more than a million calls a year, that’s at least 2,500 calls a day and often many more than that. There is a network of 41 centres across Australia. These are supported by hundreds of Op Shops which raise money for the service and some government money and personal donations provide more support. Today there are over 1,000 staff members and over 10,000 volunteers working for Lifeline.
The model of Lifeline has inspired the creation of similar services in countries across the world. The Mission of Lifeline is for an Australia free of suicide; a commitment to ensure that no Australian has to face their darkest moments alone.
Sir Alan Walker (died in January 2003) was a remarkable man. A Methodist (Uniting Church) minister, he was superintendent of the Wesley Central Mission in Sydney for twenty years. An iron-willed pacifist, he protested against the Vietnam War. He was twice deported from South Africa for his anti-apartheid stand; he denounced Australia’s White Australia Policy, consistently advocated publicly for Aboriginal rights, and for 40 years wrote opinion pieces for the Sydney Morning Herald. Some people dubbed him “the conscience of the nation”.
In the last of his 30 or so books, The Contrast Society of Jesus, (published in 1997) he restates the faith that sustained and motivated him for over 80 years. He never wavered in his conviction that “God is a suffering God… God is not indifferent to or distant from the human scene….” So, he is firm in his faith that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus reveal who God is, and what God is like. “In doubt and fear, in all experiences that come to human lives, God is present, strengthening, comforting, saving.”
Volunteer Crisis Supporter Geelong & in the Op Shop Grovedale
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