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Sunday Night Live Sermons

FINAL STAFF THANKSGIVING: THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

In Distinguished Presence Of The Governor General

Colossians 3:15-17
4th December 2005

The week I was born, Bob Hope sang on an American radio program a song that was to become a hit and his signature tune. In November 1938 he introduced the song Thanks For The Memories. That became his theme song for the rest of his career. In 1940, Hope’s career hit the high road when he teamed up with Bing Crosby to make The Road to Singapore. The Hope-Crosby combination made several road films together. Hope felt a deep commitment to his fans, and nowhere was it more obvious than when entertaining the US troops which he did for more than 50 Christmases. This commitment meant being away from his family for long periods of time. The Hopes had four children and their dad was always gone every Christmas Day.

Like Bob Hope, my theme for some time has been “Thanks for the memories”, and no more so than tonight. Like his four children, my four children always had their dad away on Christmas Day for forty years. But then our children also gave up their Christmas Day to come with Beverley and myself to ensure the homeless and then the lonely had a family Christmas Day. This Christmas Day we will also be with the homeless and then playing mum and dad for a large family of people who have no other family. On Christmas Days, I have also visited our Life Line Counsellors who have been on the phones all night, to the dying people in our palliative wards at Lottie Stewart Hospital who never thought they would live to see another Christmas, and then to visit children in our various Children’s homes. Christmas days are happy memories. Others would leave us awake at night! Here are some:

1. THE DISCOVERY OF DEBT.

My first discovery was that Wesley Mission’s attendances were grossly exaggerated, the financial records were a mess, and there were huge debts: $1.25 million on the rebuilt Wesley Centre after the fire, $1.4million on the homeless person’s centre, over $1.4 of essential maintenance on aged care facilities unfunded, and not enough cash to pay staff salaries in February 1979. My first memories were of debt everywhere, inadequate funding, poor book keeping and senior management without an idea how to proceed except to sack staff. I called for help from a man whom I had never met. Board member Keith Walkenden, took me to meet Professor A.H. Pollard. He examined our books. Then he told me he had both good news and bad news. I asked him for the bad news. He replied: “Technically, Wesley Mission is bankrupt. The good news is that your books are in such a bad state no-one knows!”

He told me bluntly I had to borrow $250,000 in emergency funds to pay salaries, and pressing debts. I met with the Chief General Manager of the Commonwealth Bank who agreed to lend us the money at 1% interest for 10 years! That meant our staff received their next pay, and we had enough cash to carry on for a few months while some more permanent solutions were found. I added some outstanding staff. Richard Menteith was the first and has remained a blessing. The advice of Professor Pollard, the appointment of expert staff, the implementation of my 500 page strategic plan, turned Wesley Mission from debt ridden to the strongest financed church and charity in the nation.

2. DALMAR SAVED BY OUR RETIREMENT VILLAGES.

Our Children Homes were in crisis. At Dalmar, we had 134 children in care in 4 buildings. The deficits were huge and threatened to swamp the rest of the Mission. Government funding was almost non-existent. All child care in NSW was in crisis with 40 other child-care organizations including the Salvation Army, The Smith Family, the Anglican Church, the Sydney City Mission, the United Protestant Association, most Romans Catholic orders and other child care organizations closing. Would we also close?

I approached Government ministers and later the Premier with strong arguments which involved me in shouting back at a Minister of Community Services, and sitting down in the Premier’s office in a one man protest sit-in! But I won. The Government lifted its funding from a low 18 cents in the dollar to 66 cents in the dollar. But we needed hundreds of thousands of dollars more to cover staff and maintenance. The answer was unexpected. I planned to build retirement villages as I had in Victoria. The NSW churches had built only for the homeless who rented our property. I was recommending building property for people who could afford to participate by providing equity from the sale of their own homes, in order to enter a retirement Village where they would be free from worries about security, maintenance in an agreeable environment. Some members of our Board opposed us moving from our tradition of renting our property to needy people. I convinced them that older people had needs even if they were not homeless.

To meet their needs we required land. Our major orphanage had a 70 acre farm. Why not sell to ourselves? Bryce Bridges, whom I appointed against some serious opposition on our Board making us the first church or charity to have its own legal specialist on staff and John Bush who came to us from a successful career within the building industry would look after building the new Retirement Villages. These men would stay with me these last 25 years, and became the first of more than 5000 whom we would employ, most of whom are still employed by us. I asked Harold S Cottee to examine the use of Dalmar’s land. So we purchased the land from ourselves. This gave us land for our Retirement Villages, and cash for our Children’s Homes. Harold S Cottee also generated cash through managing our Cottee Orchard, and his mother Lois, responded with a cheque for $138,000 to buy our first teenage centre. Our Child care work was now in a position to expand from 134 children to over 3,300 pa.

3. USING MEDIA TO RAISE FUNDS WITHOUT ASKING.

On my first Sunday I announced I was going to commence a national TV program. I had the experience of over 1000 TV appearances, and knew I could make a religious TV program so good, that for the first time, the TV networks would pay us to be on their network. That is what happened. Sam Chisholm offered us airtime and free facilities to change to the national Nine network, where I have been every week for over 25 years, longer than any other program. Turn ‘Round Australia was new in television history. Channel 9 paid our costs and I asked Christine Johnston to join us.

We then started broadcasting three hours a week on 2KY and associated stations. Then 2GB offered us the same deal plus costs if we shifted to them. I never asked for money like the American evangelists, but our listeners gave us plenty. That’s a good memory.

4. BUILDING A CITY CENTRE WITHOUT FUNDS.

In my first year I indicated that our assets were land and location. I proposed that we join a major developer to dig down 8 stories to make a huge underground car park, then a forty story office block, shopping arcade, church offices, church, theatre, restaurant, library, class rooms and so on. It was a daring concept: we had a hole, air and debt! It involved demolishing Wesley Centre Alan Walker had built only 13 years earlier with its $1.25 million debt. Our new centre was built at a cost of $320 million and opened debt free!

5. CREATING NEW CONGREGATIONS.

In my first sermon at my Induction I announced I would commence a Chinese Congregation. I did and preached each week with translation in Mandrin and Cantonese. We then built Spanish, Fijian, Tongan, Samoan, Rotuman, Indonesian, and Japanese congregations as well as new congregations on weekdays and Sunday afternoons. We started 14 new churches or congregations. In 1982 I wrote a plan for a new television series that would take us into the world. It involved making films in the Middle East. We established a film company and raised money from investors. I wrote the books and Martin Johnson recast the scripts and directed the production. I insured everyone for $1 million each!

6. AUSTRALIA’S MOST SUCCESSFUL FILM COMPANY.

We brought together a film crew and filmed throughout the Middle East. Then we wrote more and did it again. We then had films in many languages, formats, screening in many countries. The Financial Review dubbed us Australia’s most successful documentary film makers. I was dubbed “Cecil B De Moyes” and our investors kept smiling. A whole series of videos and DVD’s were produced from our films. These make happy memories.

7. WE HELPED GOVERNMENTS SOLVE PROBLEMS.

By being on key policy advisory Boards we set out to help Governments solve their problems in immigration, welfare, homelessness, gambling, unemployment, addictions, care for spinal injuries and Huntington’s Disease. We changed Government policy.

8. OUR MOST CRITICISED INVESTMENT PAYS OFF.

Nothing brought us so much criticism within the denomination than our investment in Macquarie Radio Broadcasting Ltd. At a cost of $3.5 million we purchased shares until we owned 87.5%. That ensured us four hours a week broadcasting plus return on our investment. Opposition came from UCA Synod on our visibility and profile, fear that we would lose the investment and dissatisfaction with some talk-back broadcasters. Ignorance, fear and jealousy fuelled their opposition. We found growth in ratings and profitability. We sold our shares keeping 15%, became operators of 2GB and 2CH, retained all of our on-air time, received $6.5 million cash for the rest of our shares and had our loans repaid with 12% interest.

Richard Menteith stayed on the Board and I remained as Chairman. But on top of that listeners left us estates valued at $30 million with another $10 million recently notified. Our $3.5 million investment paid off. Synod criticism and vitriolic attacks by people who neither understood media nor business is a bad memory.

9. OUR EMPLOYMENT SERVICE INCREASES STAFF.

Over 27 years we have grown from 300 staff to 4,000 employees. Our Wesley Uniting Employment, now has 53 centres and 800 staff. They help 70,000pa towards work. WUE is now our largest activity generating $50 million income pa of our total $150 million pa. Wayne Koivu and Ken Moore have caused this dramatic growth. Wesley Mission is now well cashed up. We have commenced work on major community and Care services building programs at an anticipated cost of $81 million with the money in hand.

10. WE ARE THE CHURCH’S GREATEST EDUCATOR.

Back in 1884, Wesley Mission established the “Evangelists’ Institute” to train Methodist Ministers. In 1988 we started the “Wesley Institute of Ministry and the Arts”. Today we have 400 fulltime students, 3000 single subject and part time students studying vocational and community education subjects. But the memories we enjoy the most are of ordinary men and women in whose lives we have been intertwined: birth and death, sickness and health, home and hospital, marriage and divorce, families and loneliness. You mean so much to us. We will never forget you. Thanks for the memories!

Rev. Dr. The Hon. Gordon Moyes A.C., M.L.C.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.