Just yesterday, on August 6th 2018, our friend Michael DeWolfe died. Even as I type, I find myself in disbelief. It’s not that Mike was well. He had struggled with a variety of health issues for a long time. Somehow though he always seemed to pull through and rather miraculously be out and about in the neighbourhood. I guess my brain got tricked into believing he would always beat the odds.

Mike was one of the first people I met when I began working in Parkdale. At the time he was known as “Iron Mike”, a clear leader and known by most. He always spoke with a gentle authority, liking to claim that he never raised his voice or swore, which in my experience proved true. He usually substituted the word ‘Christmas’ where one might have used a more typical expletive.

I learned early on that Mike was from Nova Scotia. He spoke of it often. With time I came to understand how complicated a life Mike had led, one that caused him both joy and regret. The east coast held many memories and often seemed to be calling out to him. Years ago Mike was able to move to Newfoundland. I still remember how big a deal it was: for him, and for those from Parkdale who watched him go. He even came for a visit once, asking to address everyone at our Monday Drop-In, where he encouraged people to see how change is possible. Mike had found a job, was in a relationship and healthier than he’d been in years, which gave others hope that it might happen for them.

Over time Mike returned to Parkdale. During the last few years he was a constant presence. He would always make sure to talk to me, whether it was in a drop-in or outside. Usually Mike would express concern about the many challenges I was going through, asking if there was anything he could do to help. Almost always he would talk about his family, specifically his children. More often than not Mike would cry freely during those conversations, wiping his eyes with the palms of both hands.

Just months ago, Joanna, Meagan and I had the opportunity to meet Mike’s son, daughter, and their mother. They had travelled a great distance to be with Mike who was in hospital. I always count it such a privilege to connect with the families of people we are walking alongside at The Dale. We have been in touch since, sharing concern about Mike’s health. It was Mike’s son who confirmed that his dad was now gone. To the whole of Mike’s family and friends, on behalf of The Dale, our deepest condolences.

Mike: thank you for being my friend. I will miss your laugh, your words of encouragement, and your presence. You know that at times you drove me crazy, and I will even miss that. The ‘block’ certainly won’t be the same without you. The last time I saw you was on the steps outside the church on Dunn Avenue, and it was because you sent someone in to the drop-in to get me. Thank you for that last visit. We said goodbye saying, “loves ya”. Loves ya I do.

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September 12th, 1962 – August 6th, 2018

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Note from Erinn: Saying goodbye to Olivia is hard. We all not-so-secretly wish she could stay. She has eagerly participated in all that we do at The Dale and we deeply value her presence. Olivia: you are a kind, sweet spirit. Thank you for sharing yourself, deliberately building relationships, and offering to help in such a variety of circumstances. I am grateful for your smile, your hugs, and your quiet and thoughtful strength. There is no way this is goodbye, because there will always be a place for you at The Dale. You are loved. 

I have been working with the Dale for almost three months now, and unfortunately it is time for me to say ‘goodbye’. I have learned so many things from this experience. I do not think it is possible for me to have done more for The Dale than what The Dale has done for me.

There is a passage in the Bible that says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalms 139: 13-14) This truth from Scripture is a powerful reminder to me, that I have been designed by God and it is wonderful. This truth also applies to each person I have met, shared a coffee with, or played ukulele alongside.

Each friend that I have made in Parkdale is so unique. So many of them love to create and are willing to share what they have more than most people I meet do. But most importantly, they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God. I was always reminded of this when I met someone new and they told me what makes their heart happy, such as poetry, gardening, or singing. Even in times of difficulty, like seeing someone in the hospital or someone frustrated and upset, I was reminded me that we are the body of Christ, we are the church, and each are so loved by God.

One personal struggle that I have dealt with my whole life, is feeling like my weaknesses are so big that I am not qualified enough to do ministry: that my shy personality and nervousness gets in the way of relationship building and speaking in front of large crowds. But, God is constantly trying to teach me that I am wonderfully made and that He is using me in my weakness. Entering a new space can be difficult, but when I came to the Dale I felt like I walked into open arms. I came to give, but instead they embraced me with found gifts and sweet encouragement. Every time I felt like I messed up, we laughed together. When difficult news spread, we cried together. The Dale showed me that doing ministry does not require a specific and perfect personality, but simply someone who will say “yes” to going; someone who will say “yes” to loving others and joining with one another in the messiness of life.

Being at the Dale exposed a new side of this type of work to me, one that goes deeper. I not only met and built relationships with individuals from the neighbourhood but got to hear their life stories and sometimes meet their family members. This was over-and-above any of my other experiences, which was usually to meet someone, maybe give out food, but then move on. There was something special about being welcomed into homes and meeting the parents, children, and spouses of the friends we love. This made me think about how life goes on after a meal program ends or after I get on the bus to go home. Each of these dear friends have a different circumstance to go home to and that I should not stop thinking about them or praying for them when I leave.

These are only some of the many reflections and discoveries I have learned during my time with the Dale. I am so thankful for Erinn, Joanna, and Meagan for welcoming me onto their team, taking the time to show me the ropes, and for exhibiting how to serve and love a community so well. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, but I know I will see them all again when I visit Toronto.

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There’s a four-wheel loader, otherwise known as a Bobcat in my backyard. The basement has been demolished, revealing strange things like no framing or insulation along certain walls, wood panelling, and linoleum tiles. A film of dust covers everything, at least on the first floor. Orange fencing surrounds the front yard. And maybe most traumatically, the porch is gone, leaving the porch swing beached for now.

Renovations have begun.

I am grateful that my brother Logan is our contractor. We communicate easily and have the same vision for things. One day six of our friends showed up to help Logan get all of the debris into a bin. It got done so quickly, that some of them were able to stay and continue working, notably taking down the drywall from the ceiling. To say I am thankful is an understatement.

As many of you know, Dion has not been living at the house since January. Multiple Sclerosis, though constantly present, reared its head in a dramatic way for him at that time. Since then he has been adjusting to a new normal at three different facilities, Michael Garron Hospital, Bridgepoint, and now Bellwoods. This period has been a very difficult one for him, and for me and Cate. I don’t quite know how to describe it all. Suffice to say, while there are good things happening, I am also scared, sad, and tired.

The plans for the house include digging down and underpinning, putting in a lift from the main floor to the basement, a barrier-free washroom, and space for a hospital bed. We have no idea when it will be done. Currently Dion is receiving good care at his new place, and outpatient physiotherapy at Bridgepoint.

With everything going on, I have chosen to be pretty quiet here lately. I haven’t known what to write, even though writing often helps me sort out my thoughts. I am trying to live in the tension of a life that is full to the brim, and some days it all feels like too much. I’m looking for ways to rest and am eagerly anticipating having the month of August off from work. There is a lot to process, and I’m hoping for a little more space in my brain to do just that.

I do wonder if there is something symbolic about having to tear down old things in order to make something new. As strange as it is to have a Bobcat parked where my car usually is, there is something exciting about it all. Things are happening. And that, however messy it is and nervous it all makes me, is good.

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Julie Gold has been found! While we can’t share details, what we can say is that she is safe. Thank you to everyone who has been looking, praying, sending good thoughts, and sharing her picture. To say we are relieved is an understatement. We are crying tears of joy.

Julie Gold is a member of The Dale community and a friend. We have recently learned that Julie has been missing for eleven days. The last time she was at The Dale was June 24th. Though from Uxbridge, Julie made the long trek to Parkdale on a regular basis (always to my amazement). There is evidence that she may currently be in the Toronto area. We join together with Julie’s family in deep concern that she be found.

We have been instructed by the police to ask the following should you have any information about Julie:

Please contact the Toronto Police at 416-808-2222, or in case of emergency, 911. This is Durham Regional Police case #18-136926. The officer in charge is Police Constable Gerritts, Badge #3521, 905-579-1520 ext 2000. PC Gerrits can also be reached by email at 3521@drps.ca

Julie is 5’8″, has a medium build and shoulder length brown hair. Those are important features to know as you look. Please also know that Julie is the kind of friend who consistently encourages me to take time out for myself and regularly offers to meet for a drink (she doesn’t like coffee, but knows I do) or a lakeside walk. She is: a loyal friend and a lover of cats; can be very quiet and has a great laugh; is quick to help with the dishes and gives good hugs.

Julie: may you know deep in your core that you are loved. I hope you are safe. We all do. 36636842_10156213384211223_3177978359669850112_n

 

 

 

 

We play a fair amount of Scrabble at The Dale. Years ago we inherited a large turntable board that The Salvation Army Thrift Store (the location of our Tuesday drop-in) graciously allows us to keep stashed in a back room. Most weeks it is set up on the table in the Coffee Corner, surrounded by mugs of hot drinks, a few snacks, and a rotating group of interested players. Nine times out of ten we don’t keep score, partially eliminating the competition factor- depending on who you play with.

For some people Scrabble is a new game. It is always interesting trying to describe the rules, especially when we regularly *ahem* loosen them: there must be at least two players and no more than four; the person who draws the earliest letter in the alphabet plays first; the game progresses as each player lays down tiles on the board that make up words that connect to already played words (this might be the most challenging rule to get across); tiles cannot be placed diagonally or backwards; suffixes, prefixes and abbreviations are not allowed, nor are words that require the use of a capital, hyphen or apostrophe.

There are many memorable Scrabble moments for me. A community member once had us play “Christmas Scrabble”, where we were only allowed to play Christmas-related words with an accompanying STORY (which for some turns was how we learned a word could be remotely related to December 25th). I love playing with another friend who reads and writes in a very limited way, but eagerly wants to participate. Oftentimes he will excitedly say, “I’ve got a good one!” to a word that has been entirely made up, his face erupting into the biggest grin.

I love to play games and admit it is where my otherwise non-existent competitive streak tends to comes out. Playing at the Thrift Store has helped me keep this in check. It’s not that I still don’t enjoy a very serious game of Scrabble, it’s that I’ve come to love the very NON-serious style we have at The Dale. I have seen unlikely relationships form as two people commiserate over what to do with seven vowels. We get to be very engaged with each other, while also collectively strengthening our brains. It’s fun. And given the variety of challenges our community faces, fun is a very good thing.

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The Dale is a special place, one that I write about often. We are a community organization and church without our own walls…literally: we do not have a building of our own. You can call us nomads, just nomads with a schedule. The Dale partners with others who DO have buildings and we spend a lot of time outside. It’s a great use of resources, and frees us to do what we do best: foster safe and welcoming spaces for all people, particularly those who are marginalized. We run drop-ins, provide meals, advocate for our friends, offer pastoral care and support, do street outreach, and gather for a church service on Sundays. We invite everyone into full participation, an attempt to have people experience what it means to both give and receive, a value that is too often lost when one is consistently a recipient of charity.

The Dale relies on the financial support of others for everything we do. In other words, we have to fundraise our entire budget. In order to do this we have to boldly ask for people to consider becoming a part of our support network by making a monetary donation. Admittedly this isn’t always easy. What we have found though is that it is also very good.

Which brings me to this: today we are launching an on-line auction, a fundraiser you can participate in from your mobile or desktop. There are a large number of items you can bid on, all of which have been generously donated. It is also easy to make a direct donation. Not in a position to give financially? It would be an enormous help if you would share the link with your own network.

Let’s have fun with this! The auction will run from June 18th to the 25th. Try to beat me to the wide selection of books from Harper Collins, or the tickets to the AGO, or the Dozen Glory Hole Doughnuts, or the COVETED Dale Ministries mug. See you there!

Please go to: https://www.givergy.ca/dale

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Last month I started my MDiv placement at The Dale Ministries. The Dale is a deeply community-rooted church and urban ministry in the Parkdale neighborhood. This ministry in my opinion is especially gifted at re-presenting the love of God made evident in Jesus in practical, relationship-building, and deep, deep soul-enriching ways.

Since I began my placement within this gathering of people I have participated in a unique circle of love that defies my ability to fully articulate. The best I can do is to say that it feels like the most refreshing, desperately needed drink from a life-giving divinely sourced fountain. That. That and so very much more.

There are many ways The Dale lives out it’s calling to its people. However, I have come to see that woven into the vibrant tapestry of life in this community are these three threads: the presence of a shared meal, endless opportunities for people to participate or find joy in a shared creative expression, and the never-ending sharing of wisdom-stories, life hacks and pain borne over the course of people’s earth journey. And as I write this, I see that the common denominator in those three things is that The Dale is where people share: they lay it bare. These people who are quickly becoming deep impressions on my heart, come with the markings of the hardness of their earth journeys. They gather to stop, rest and unload some. In the one’s unloading, the other reaches out to help set some of the burdens aside. It looks and feels tangibly practical, deeply mystical and all the spaces in between.

As my time in this community unfolds I have already had the deep honour to witness and participate in countless eternal moments of sharing life and shared living. I notice with amazement how this deceptively simple act of sharing impacts the energy, gait and faces of Dale folk. Looking lighter than they did when they came together, they travel on into their day, with a perceptible shift in their way of being. Perhaps it is because there is a knowing that soon enough will be another spirit-curated moment to stop, rest, and share. That might happen at any time during their day, but it will certainly happen at The Dale.

And isn’t this all so very much like the 3-in-1 Jesus, Divine Spirit, and God in whose image we are created? After all, the very breath that gives us life is a shared life with the Holy spirit, a life renewed in and through Jesus, who shares in our sufferings and joys, bringing us and all creation into shared relationship with the Creator God.

I am undone daily at The Dale and I am so much better for it. Here, I am learning all over again that it is core to who we are as image bearers, to be life-sharers too.

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What does it truly mean to do ministry like Jesus? I thought I knew the answer to that until I joined The Dale, where I have seen it with my own eyes. My name is Olivia, and I am interning at The Dale this summer. I have only been around for four weeks and have already felt very welcomed by the community.

The Dale is unique in so many ways. I have come to know this through experiences that continuously shape my idea of who The Dale is.

The Dale is: knowing by name each person sitting on a park bench or along street corners.

The Dale is: being friends with the gentleman at the traffic light asking for spare change.

The Dale is: visiting and feeding cats while their owner is in the hospital.

The Dale is: treating everyone with dignity and value.

The Dale is: two people trying to carry twelve bags of groceries to a friend’s apartment on the second floor.

The Dale is: cleaning a friend’s apartment while listening to “I’m Sexy and I Know it” on repeat.

The Dale is: passing a plate of food around the table to serve one another as a family does.

The Dale is: not just giving but mutually receiving from the community members.

The Dale is: hugging every individual in the church congregation during the greeting.

The Dale is: an unconditional love for anyone, from all walks of life.

During Jesus’ ministry, He spent time with the people who were marginalized in those days, such as the tax collectors and the sick. He told the people to “love your neighbour” (Mark 12:31) and models this throughout His ministry. Through working with The Dale, I am learning more about how this is applied today, that loving people can be accomplished by joining them in life’s mundane tasks. This community has shown me what fellowship looks like. From being with one another in the hard times to the simple moments of sitting in the park singing.

I am excited to continue to be involved in Parkdale and feel blessed to be a part of this family. Each day is unpredictable. I am never sure how plans will turn out, but by the end of the day it is cool to reflect on and see how God is directing things for His good.

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Being present to the moment is hard work. I want to be. And yet for this self-confessed worrier it’s mighty challenging. I remember my mother telling me that I came by my ability to worry (very internally) honestly: she and her dad always appeared calm and yet would say, “calm on the outside, but going a million miles a minute inside”. Sounds about right. It’s not that my relatively relaxed exterior is a show. I’m not faking it. It’s just that there is more to me than that.

Lately I feel entirely mixed up. I’m quite certain that every health care professional I have met over the course of Dion’s hospitalization has been witness to me being an emotional wreck. Which I think I’m okay with, except I sometimes wish my face would leak less. This is proving to be a time worthy of the descriptor “emotional roller-coaster”.

The city has issued the permit for our home renovations. This means everything needs to be moved out of the basement so that we can demolish it, all preferably before the end of June. In the meantime Dion has moved to Bellwoods, a transitional facility in the west-end of the city. In some ways I feel relieved that there are finally time-lines for many of the things that need to get done. In other ways I am completely overwhelmed.

I want to share that our reality is very challenging right now (I know that likely comes as no surprise). Dion is trying to process many new things: completing his formal work days and going on long-term disability, moving to a different neighbourhood, adjusting to an increased level of care, and feeling homesick. I am trying to process all of this too, as is Cate. There are many unknowns, making the way forward less than clear. This is unchartered territory.

Many people have asked how to help. Please do not mistake my inability to succinctly answer that with an unwillingness to receive assistance. I feel like I do after experiencing the trauma of bereavement. When someone asks me if I want a coffee, I find myself responding, “I don’t know, do I want a coffee? If you put it in my hand, I’ll probably drink it”. Having said this, I am piecing together a list of what needs to be done over the next while and will be in touch about it soon.

Somehow in all of this, I can sense God’s presence. I am trying to do the things that are right in front of me to do, and trust that things will be worked out as they should. Even though it is difficult, I endeavour to return to the present moment, very often with the following prayer by Thomas Merton ringing in my ears and embedded in my heart:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”