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.” 

 

 

 

 

Meagan, her husband Ian, and I were just starting to set up our table at Spring into Parkdale, an annual event organized by the BIA that celebrates the neighbourhood, when a librarian from the Parkdale Public Library approached me. “Have you heard about The Dale Ministries namesake?” I confessed that I had not.

Apparently Mary and Helen of the library found a mannequin at the side of the road on a cold rainy day. Destined for landfill, they decided to rescue, clean up and give her a new home at Parkdale Public Library. They felt she needed a name. “I brought up The Dale Ministries and said, they bring in those who have been marginalized. We should really name her Dale.”

Ha! Amazing! I was moved that The Dale came to mind. Over the years we have gotten to know various staff at the library, an oasis for many of our friends who need a place to be throughout the day. Years ago, when one of our mutual friends died, they attended the funeral we held and even took up an offering in support of the beloved cat he left behind.

Now mannequin ‘Dale’ has been ceremoniously crowned the Green Queen and will be used to feature events and books at the library. Her first event was Spring into Parkdale, where Creative Reuse Toronto dressed her with material from worn books. There are even plans to give her a new hairdo. What an honour to be a small part of this initiative. To our friends at the library: thank you! 

 

 

On May 14th of last year my brother Logan and I went to spend some time with our mom. It was both Mother’s Day and my birthday, a double whammy that seems to happen every few years. We had a good visit, the kind that was full of shared stories and the occasional bought of laughter. Eventually I had to run off to a birthday dinner, but not before mom had the chance to point in the direction of her present to me. She was a great gift-giver, even when it required buying things on-line from her hospital bed.  That day she gave me a sturdy blue and white striped canvas bag, one that she hoped I would fill with things like flowers, baguette, good coffee beans and of course, chips.

I had no idea at the time, but that would be the last opportunity I would have to chat with my mom. I heard from her on the 17th via an email filled with family news, and gratitude for our visit. On the 19th we got the call that she was not okay. What transpired next still feels a bit like a dream, though it was all very, very real. The doctor carefully and sympathetically told me and Logan that we needed to bring together family and friends because the end was near. A huge group held vigil throughout the weekend. And then on Victoria Day, surrounded by her immediate family, Elaine Clare Grant (nee: Muirhead) took her last breath.

Nearly a year later, I find myself struggling to cope with the way my beloved mother’s death, Mother’s Day, and my birthday have all become intertwined. I suspect the acuteness of this will soften with time, but for now, on the eve of this first anniversary, it hurts. For the majority of yesterday I did a little better than expected. I looked at Cate and marvelled that I get to mother her; I was greeted by multiple people at The Dale as “Mom”; I felt safe to acknowledge how complicated a day like Mother’s Day is for so many people, including me; I thought of the many mother-figures I have in my life; Dion and Cate took me out for dinner. It wasn’t until the later evening that I started to panic: how can the day be almost done and I haven’t seen my mom? Of course I knew the answer, but as Joan Didion so aptly wrote in her memoir, it’s the kind of magical thinking that happens after someone dies.

The long and short of it is this: I miss my mom. Nearly every day I think of something I want to tell her. In all of the ongoing challenge of life (and there is a lot), I long to hear her voice offering comfort, wisdom, and love. She understood. I also know that as a result of so many years of persevering, mom was weary (though she never complained). It is a relief that she is no longer bound to a bed or wheelchair. Mom’s faith sustained her in life and promised her so much beyond it. I like to imagine her walking, maybe with a striped bag on her shoulder like the one she gave to me, filled with things that she loves. As Mother’s Day 2018 drew to a close, imagining her smile made me do the same.

It is all over the news: a van, moving at high speeds, intentionally drove along a more than one kilometre stretch of sidewalk in Toronto’s north-end, killing ten people and injuring numerous more.

I have been thinking about this traumatic, violent event a lot. For this born and bred Toronto girl, it touches my home. I read an account of a woman who was left unscathed, while the friend walking alongside her was swept away by the van. I walk these city streets all the time…it could have just as easily been me. For too many, it WAS their loved one. Tragedy has struck close.

One of the reasons I feel so sad is that while we begin to process and grieve this incident, other incidents are already underway. There is a trail of carnage in this world. It is shockingly easy to feel as though violence will always only touch the “other”. But as Mr Rogers so aptly said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.”

So what does that even look like? I am admittedly overwhelmed. The problems seem too big, too pervasive, too bleak. And yet, there is light piercing through the darkness. It comes when people choose to listen to one another, to extend hospitality, to share resources, to weep when the other is weeping, to hold one another to account in love. We are invited to respond to one another’s needs. It isn’t easy. The best things rarely are.

Tonight I grieve for the victims here in Toronto. I pray for those left behind, the ones who saw it all happen, and the neighbourhood as a whole. I pray for the man responsible and against violence. I also pray for the many people who are intimately acquainted with tragedy across this globe. You are not simply the “other”.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13:4-7

 

 

 

 

One year ago today Meagan joined the staff of The Dale.

Meagan’s first day was, shall we say, unique. Months prior, I had been scheduled for a colonoscopy (ahem). We had wondered about delaying Meg’s start so that I could be fully present, but she was ready to go. Because I was going to be sedated, she and Joanna agreed to be the ones to pick me up and get me safely home. The sum total of what I recall after they picked me up?…sitting in my living room, eating scrambled eggs that Joanna made, and me saying, “I have a feeling I’m not going to remember anything I’ve just said”. Not exactly the way I envisioned welcoming Meagan to the team!

Looking back, I’m somehow grateful for the opportunity to greet Meagan in such a vulnerable state. I knew that Meagan, though for different reasons, was feeling vulnerable too. Choosing The Dale was a leap of faith for her, one that required joining a small staff, getting to know a whole new community and doing fundraising for the first time. I remember one of her earliest prayers before a Monday Drop-In: it was simply for peace and a friend, both things that she desperately wanted.

I have said this to Meagan privately, but I also want to say it here: today I celebrate and give thanks for her. I am grateful for her courage; for her quiet strength; for her calm, solid presence; for her humour (she regularly cracks me and Joanna up); for her ability to process things which then reveals such wisdom; for her active choosing to be transparent, even when it’s hard; for the way she loves our community; and for her friendship.

Meagan, the last year has truly been a study in contrasts. We have experienced joy, sorrow, loneliness, community, and that’s just a start. Building relationships takes time, even when it feels like it shouldn’t. You are doing such patient work, slowly and carefully developing trust with a lot of people. I hope you feel enfolded and aware of how deeply you are loved and valued. I know the life we have chosen and been called to is not easy. I often think of the way CS Lewis describes Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Is he quite safe?…’Safe?’ said Mr Beaver…’who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good’.” This journey is not safe AND it is so good. I’m glad we’re doing it together.

PS If you ever have a colonoscopy, Joanna and I will be there to pick you up.

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When asked, what difference does Second Harvest make to The Dale Ministries, I always reply, “we could not do this without them”. Take the Monday lunch a few weeks ago: there were fifteen different fruits and vegetables in the meal our community prepared. Souad Sharabani, our volunteer kitchen coordinator, beautifully described it during the announcement period right before serving, reminding everyone how important it is that they “eat the vegetables first! Munchkins, angels, I beg you!”

At The Dale we believe a unique kind of community is built around a table. For someone who is largely isolated, having to pass the potatoes can create a sense of connection. The hope is by returning each week, that same person might come to know the others who have also gathered. We also place a high value on making healthy, nutritious food available, the kind that access is limited to amongst people who experience poverty. The day of our fruit and vegetable-packed meal, a person sitting across from me said, “this food tastes like it was made with love. I haven’t shared a meal like this in years“.

Second Harvest is the largest food rescue organization in Canada. They are reducing the amount of food waste by recovering it before being thrown out. Every Sunday we receive a delivery of food that has been salvaged: oftentimes cases of produce, sometimes meat, bread, and dairy products, occasionally treats like baked goods, juice or even ice-cream sandwiches. It is good food, just maybe surplus or near its best before date and therefore removed from retail shelves. Our menu is built on what we receive.

From September 1, 2017 to February 28, 2018, Second Harvest delivered 11,870 pounds of food to The Dale, a donation valued at $29,675.00Isn’t that incredible? Those numbers give shape to what I mean when I say we can’t do this without them. Together we are reducing waste AND hunger, with a whole lot of love mixed in.

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