I am reading a book, given to me recently by a friend, that has me thinking about blessings: “Everyone in the world matters, and so do their blessings…Those who bless and serve life find a place of belonging and strength, a refuge from living in ways that are empty and lonely…When people are blessed they discover their lives matter. And when you bless others, you may discover this same thing is true about yourself.” (Rachel Naomi Remen)

Here are three stories of blessings, all of which happened this week.

One of our friends got in some trouble and had to very quickly put their beloved pet in the care of another person. Sadly, the person was not in the healthiest position themselves and the dog seemed to pick up on it. He bolted and ran…right to where he usually sees us, The Dale. As I discussed this with a friend involved in the situation, she said, “I really think this says something about your community. Even the dog knows The Dale as a safe space”.

I was standing in front of a teller doing some banking for The Dale. She noticed our name and asked what we do, so I told her a bit about us. We carried on with our business for a few minutes before she asked some more questions. I started to gather up my belongings to go when she said, “I have been carrying around what I call my widow’s mite for months. I haven’t known where to give it, until today. Would you accept a gift from me for The Dale?”. I stood stunned as she handed me an envelope with a cash donation inside.

Joanna, Meagan, Pete and I were asked to do an apartment blessing by a friend. We were welcomed in to her bright, spacious place (a far cry from her last situation) with open arms, offered cookies and sprite, and given a quick tour. We gathered at her door and in her living room to pray. It felt like a deep honour to have our team be asked to do this with and for this person.

Sometimes blessings come in quiet ways from unexpected people (or a dog). And, as Remen continues in her book, “Unlike helping and fixing and rescuing, service is mutual.” Both our friend and her dog regularly surround us with love. The teller was grateful for the work of The Dale and I was grateful for her support. For me, the apartment person is a years-long friend, one who is willing to be painfully vulnerable about her long and difficult life journey, while being one of the most profoundly encouraging people I know.

Blessings, to my understanding, are not about big, material things. Nor are they about everything in life going exactly as planned. They can be little acts of service. They show up in our brokenness. And they are all around us. This week I want to be very intentional about looking for ways to bless and having the eyes to see the many blessings around me.

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Sometimes I hear, “oh, I wish you had told me about that” after the fact. In order to avoid this issue, I want to tell you about some upcoming events that I am excited about.

Do you like to ride, walk, scoot, or roll? If you do and would like to support The Dale while you’re at it, please consider joining us at the Ride for Refuge on Saturday, October 5th, a day when people across the country declare their solidarity with those who have experienced displacement, exploitation, persecution and abuse. The Ride makes it possible for its charitable partners to raise money for their own work toward alleviating these issues. In other words, if you join up for The Dale and raise pledges, the money will go directly to our general fund. You might not know that The Dale has to fundraise for its entire budget, so this is an amazing opportunity to help us do what we do. Sign up today!

The Ride for Refuge: https://rideforrefuge.org/charity/canadarideforrefugeorgthedale

Last year I went to the first reImagine Conference in Hamilton. It was one of the best things I had been to in a long time. This October it is happening again, and I encourage you to check it out. In partnership with the Parish Collective, reImagine gathers people together who are practicing what it means to be a presence in, with and for the neighbourhood. There is a wonderfully diverse group of presenters, of which I am honoured to be a part. Joanna will be there too, sharing alongside Jason McKinney of Epiphany & St Mark about the work we do together in our beloved neighbourhood of Parkdale.

ReImagine: http://reimagineconference.ca

In just a couple of weeks, Dion and I will be leading a workshop about how ministry and marriage can complement one another (and discuss the challenges) at the Our City Toronto Urban Ministry Conference. This is a new gathering, spearheaded by our friend and fellow urban practitioner Ejay Type. This promises to be a great event, plus I know there is still space, so please consider joining us September 19th and 20th.

Our City Toronto Urban Ministry Conference: http://ourcityconference.ca

If one of these events doesn’t work for you, please know that you are always welcome at The Dale. Hope to see you soon!

Some August field notes and pictures.

It has been nearly a month on vacation. Slowing down, unwinding, dialing down the demands does not happen quickly, in fact it takes longer than I would like. I also do not think it possible for everything to be silenced. Life continues whether I am on holidays or not. Which is okay, because I am not trying to escape, just taking breaks where I can get them.

The hammocks at Camp Hart

Listening to the wind, the lapping of water, the chirping of birds and the buzzing of crickets all remind me of the largeness of this land and how small I really am.

Lake Huron

I like going to the movies on a rainy day.

Practicing presence is important. For the first two weeks I would begin to feel anxious, unconscious of what was causing it. I quickly realized my nervousness was connected to the time of day, usually right before a drop-in was set to begin. I repeatedly had the opportunity to pray for The Dale, let it go, and settle into being present to the moment.

We got to enjoy substantial visits with two families we first became connected to when our daughters began Kindergarten together. I love that our friendship has spanned thirteen years (so far).

The moon and Jupiter

Sleeping in and napping are two skills I am honing.

Campfires make me happy. So do sun kissed cheeks, sitting and reading on a dock, and hearing Cate laugh as we listen to The Vinyl Cafe.

Camping at The Pinery

Having friends that look after you (by drawing a bath, feeding you, watching funny television together, sharing a campsite, touring you around their new neighbourhood, sharing their cottage) and your family (by dropping off meals on your doorstep, inviting us over, chatting in the street) are very special. Knowing the impact this has makes me want to ensure more people get to experience this kind of care.

Hanging out at home with no where to go is good for the soul.

Did you know that the oldest cemetery in Canada is in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia? I learned that, along with so many other pieces of information while Cate and I were there visiting some of the friends I mention above. My interest in history has been reignited.

On the candlelight graveyard tour in Annapolis Royal. Photo by Andrew Tolson

We ran into a community member from The Dale who just got housed this month. Seeing him excited and well made me so happy. I was reminded that celebrating how hope remains real is important.

September always feels like more of a new year to me than January. This month has helped prepare me for it. I am looking forward to being back with my teammates and the community. I am ready to jump back in.

As of tomorrow, I will be on vacation for a month. This has been my rhythm for the last number of years, which is maybe why my body started anticipating the rest about a month ago. For a variety of reasons, I felt like I was hitting a wall in July. I think of Sunday as the start of my work week and for the last three in a row I found myself unusually anxious.

In those uneasy moments, most acute as I was travelling to The Dale, I prayed. In my weakness I asked for strength. In my fatigue I asked for energy. In my sadness I asked for joy. Sometimes I just sat there not knowing what to ask for at all. I cried. I listened to music. And then as I arrived at my destination, I took a deep breath and decidedly put one foot in front of the other.

Things didn’t slow down in July. But somehow, in a beautiful and spirit-led way I was sustained through it.

It’s never easy saying a long “see you later” to my beloved community at The Dale. Together we understand life to be fragile: a lot can change very quickly (something we know all too well from experience). Having said that, rest is important. In order to be in this for the long haul, I must retreat and replenish. My friends affirm this and keep telling me to go with their blessing. One person continually says, “I don’t like that you’re leaving, but I GET it. Go. Rest. Come back.”

Soon I will be picking Cate up at the camp she has been at since the beginning of the summer. Dion and I are looking forward to having her home and hearing all her stories. With the last bits of the house renovation nearly done, it will be nice to continue settling in. There will be a trip to visit friends, some time at a cabin, and many stay-cation activities, hopefully all punctuated with some serious sleep and a lot of reading.

Thank you to Joanna, Meagan and Pete who not only make time like this possible but do so in such a generous and caring way; to the Board, for always having my back; to our community who models what it means to both give and receive; and to Dion and Cate for supporting and loving me, spurring me on to live well into the tension of work and rest.

Happy August everyone. See you soon.

I am/we are witness to a whole lot of pain at The Dale. And yet, there is joy.

At The Dale we work hard to create a safe space for all of us to go below the surface and acknowledge what is really going on in our lives. Many of us can’t hide the hard stuff even if we tried. We are trying to work equally hard at practicing gratitude, celebrating things large and small, and unearthing joy.

Living in this tension is not easy. In an effort to honour that we are all broken, we can too easily dwell there, making it easy to then swing in the opposite extreme: expecting people to put on a happy face all the time.

I have been thinking about all of this a lot. How does joy spring out of trial? I don’t need to look far for inspiration. It comes when “Sarah’s” prayers share the anguish of not being able to grasp how grace might cover her AND the surprise gifts she just received; when “Jim” has to go to the food bank, but is given an abundance of one item and now has the opportunity to share the bounty with friends; when “Fred” grieves the loss of every single one of his blood relatives and beams when talking about his new chosen family.

In this sense, joy actually becomes a subversive act. It pushes against the things that threaten to push us down. Joy doesn’t require that we ignore brokenness: it can be strengthened by it.

At various points this year I have been burdened with sorrow. The weight of circumstances heavy upon my shoulders and heart. The thing that steadies my heart is slowing down, lifting my eyes to where my help comes from, and declaring my faith again and again. In those moments I am reminded that it is possible to not have joy stolen away.

This week I hope to live well into this mystery. I want to acknowledge those things that are hard, the places I am weak, the gratitude I feel, and allow myself to be surprised by joy.

I have long been convinced that when a group of people gathers around a table a unique form of community is built. Learning to be side-by-side, passing the platter, pouring one another a drink: it all helps.

Much of life at The Dale involves a table. On Mondays we have multiple long tables set up around the room. On Tuesdays we play Scrabble around one at the back of the Salvation Army Thrift Store. In the summer we find ourselves sitting at picnic tables in parks. On Thursdays we set three tables up like a huge T. On Sundays our focal point is a little wooden table, laden with the bread, wine and juice.

Oh, the stories we have about life at the table.

The Dale has its own version of Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy guys from The Muppet Show. They like to sit across from each other even though they drive each other crazy. We sometimes try to (unsuccessfully) split them up, only to discover them reunited and carrying on with their banter.

Sometimes a person comes in so distraught that they collapse at a table. One day a friend stumbled in and placed her head down. I joined her, leaning as close to the tabletop as she was. We exchanged thoughts in whispers. Her hiccupy crying the only thing audible to the rest of the room. To this day we both reference this encounter as pivotal to our friendship.

At a drop-in by the lake, two unlikely friends sat at the picnic table. She invited him to lay down on the bench while gently stroking his hair. We wanted to freeze the moment in time: a sweet escape from their otherwise challenging realities.

Just after blessing the communion elements, a community member joined me at the table to begin the process of passing each around. This friend, battle-worn and vulnerable, looked me right in the eye and in reference to the bread said, “get it in you”.

As staff we sit around a kitchen table on Wednesday mornings. It’s where I sit while writing this. We bat around ideas, type in collective silence, laugh, and eat. It is an important part of team building.

All these moments remind me of how important it is to extend welcome to the tables we like to count as ours. We want to make space at The Dale. This increasingly means gathering even more closely together so that we can make space for another chair. At tables we can share our brokenness and offer blessing. Whether we are grumpy or cheerful, connected or lonely, weary or energetic, there is room at the table.

Lately, I have been feeling reflective about the journey that has been The Dale. It was nearly seven years ago that we gave up our leased space and became a nomadic community. At the time (and maybe still) many thought it a crazy decision on my part. I could feel the skepticism. I don’t think anyone wanted us to fail, I just think some wondered how it could possibly work.

I remember being scared for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the thought of messing things up. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to close down and yet I knew that to be a very real possibility. It seemed wise to set markers in the first year, ones that if not met would signal the plan wasn’t working. Looking back, I am struck by how often we were surprised by grace, again and again experiencing unexpected provision.

I know that God invited me to step in to a role that I would never have considered myself for. I felt inadequate and strangely determined. Fortunately, I was and continue to be surrounded and supported by my family, a Board, and our precious community. I continue to learn from Jesus’ example that to lead I must serve, a posture that is messy, challenging and necessary to choose repeatedly.

At my ordination examining council a community member said, “Erinn is no stranger to suffering, and so she can walk with us”. What a relief that I get to be a part of a community where that is valued. I don’t need to pretend that everything is easy, when everything is not. Together we are discovering what it means to lament well, to practice gratitude, to engage in prayer, to feast together, to admit our failures, to apologize and forgive, and to be transformed by God.

Last week The Dale led a workshop at Assembly, the annual gathering of our denomination. During the debrief time near the end, I sat at the front alongside our team: Joanna, Meagan, Pete, and our two interns, Jan and David. Six of us. Even as I type that I have to stop and take it in. Seven years ago, I was alone. I can’t help but weep tears of wonder.

It is a privilege to be a participant in the work of The Dale. Thank you to everyone, past and present, who has been a part of the journey. I have tucked our many stories in my heart and love knowing that there are countless more to come.

I got the news shortly after getting home from a brief retreat with Joanna and Meagan. I audibly gasped. My long-time friend Keith Pittman had succumbed to injuries sustained from a bike accident. I immediately thought about our most recent interaction, just weeks ago. He looked good. Happier than I’d seen him in a while. Hopeful.

I met Keith in my earliest Parkdale days. He was wearing a ball cap and sitting on some steps, surrounded by what we called the crew- many people we have already said farewell to. I quickly detected his Newfoundland accent and told him of my honorary Newfoundlander status (even though I’m a Mainlander from Toronto). We immediately connected about things like Jigg’s Dinner, bottles of moose meat, and the smell of salt-water air.

Once a track-and-field guy, Keith spoke often of his running days that came to a halt due to an injury. He even set what I believe were provincial records- ones that he was proud to show me on-line. Sharing about those days seemed to make him grin and wince at the same time.

Keith was very open about what he called his “demons”. We had long talks about them, and his regrets. Our time often ended with his prayers. If his children stumble upon this one day: I want you to know that he tearfully spoke of you frequently over many years. I’m so sorry that the journey was such a difficult one for him, and for you.

I will miss Keith: his striking eyes, the way he would inquire about my life (“how ARE you my’love?”), seeing him bike around the neighbourhood. I have already caught myself thinking I see his familiar gait in the distance. I’m sad, just as many people are about Keith’s death. I extend my condolences to his family.

I’m not sure that Keith realized his impact. I hope he did. I also hope he’s now running like the wind, finally out of pain.

Keith Pittman
May 16 1964 – June 4 2019

I am passionate about the work that we do at The Dale. Did you know that in order to make it all happen, we have to fundraise? The Dale is sustained by the contributions of many individuals, churches, businesses, and grants. We have no government funding.

Today we are launching an On-Line Auction. We held our first auction last year and had so much fun, that we decided to do one again! Please enjoy checking out all the wonderful items, each one donated to benefit The Dale. Do you keep getting out-bid? There is also a way to make a direct donation.

Thank you to everyone who believes in and supports The Dale in such a variety of ways. Our community members are at the core of it all, bringing their own unique gifts to keep this place going. We are grateful.

http://www.givergy.ca/thedale

On behalf of The Dale, I am very pleased to announce that we are expanding! As of the beginning of June, Pete Nojd will be joining our staff team as a Community Worker. We are thrilled that Pete, his wife Frances, and their four children will now be a part of our community.

Along with the Nojd family, we have the pleasure of enfolding the congregation that Pete has been pastoring over the last year and a half: Rendezvous Church. Rendezvous was started by Scott Rourk about ten years ago and has been tended to by many over that time. I know that the decision to close has not been made lightly. I want to honour the long, good work of Rendezvous, and give space for its community to both grieve and adjust to this new reality. Change, however good, is hard. I am grateful for and affirm that, as Pete wrote in a recent announcement of his own, we have “come to the conclusion that God has been at work to bring us together”.

Rendezvous had its last service yesterday and will be joining The Dale on June 2nd. Our folks are already planning ways to make everyone feel welcome- rumour has it there will be a banner and a cake! We invite you to pray that each person who joins us, including Pete, Frances and their children, quickly feel a sense of belonging.

Pete’s role will include supporting our existing programming, mentoring individuals, sometimes teaching on Sundays, and taking up the task of fundraising (something every member of our staff team must do and is admittedly a step of faith). We have identified that as our relationships deepen in the community, so does our need to be present. Having a fourth staff member only grows our capacity to do this beloved work. It also creates space for us to imagine and establish additional programs. There will be room, just as there is for Joanna, Meagan and I, for Pete to carve out jobs that are unique to him.

There will soon be a bio of Pete up on our website. Until then, a little about him: Pete grew up in Brampton, is passionate about and called to Parkdale, loves being a husband and father, has a MDiv from Tyndale University College & Seminary, and is an avid fan of all sports. When Pete first arrived in Parkdale, he contacted us about building a partnership and very quickly began steadily volunteering at our Monday Drop-In. He has already developed many relationships at The Dale and is a very kind and humble presence.

Please join me, Joanna, Meagan, our Board of Directors, and the entire Dale community in saying, “welcome!” We are excited for this next leg of the journey.

Frances and Pete Nojd