Archives for the month of: October, 2013

Tonight was a night I need to process.

A small group of us go out on street outreach every Wednesday night. In our context this simply means we walk through Parkdale with our eyes as wide open as possible. We chat with those we know and sometimes those we don’t. Time outside is important in part because it means being on the turf of so many of our friends. One such friend was panhandling outside the local liquor store, or as she calls it, “hustling”. She was seated on the ground and invited us to join her and so we did.

Thus began our evening. Though we were seated on the sidewalk, she continued to call out to people passing by. At one point she introduced us as her family: “don’t be afraid, these are my sisters, my brother, my Godfather”. She took the occasional swig of cheap sherry and admitted she’d been sitting there for at least four hours. She asked us to pray for her; she followed by praying for us. She repeatedly told us she loved us.

We eventually got up off the pavement and started to walk together. We got to Tim Horton’s and she suggested we go in. She bought us all something with the money she made panning. I can’t even describe how precious this felt. We huddled around a table where suddenly she got quieter than she’d been all evening.

She began softly: “Why me?” The lament grew louder: “Why me? Why me? Why me?”

Yes, why her? Life has spiralled seemingly out-of-control: homelessness, hustling and hunger. She wants life to be different, but doesn’t know how to change it. Life began with her father forcing himself on her. As she said, “my parent did that to me. That’s not my fault right? That can’t be my fault.” So yes, why?

My hand is sore from how hard she was holding it tonight. I suspect everyone’s hand from our group feels the same way.  Our friend swung from being drunk to prayerful to extremely funny to hospitable and generous to mad and desperately sad. It felt like she was clinging on to us, for support, companionship and love. Truthfully, we were clinging back.

A man who witnessed some of our interaction came up and asked who we were. He wondered if we needed donations and handed me a toonie, began to walk away and then turned around and handed us all the loose change he had. Our friend wished him a Merry Christmas because “this must mean that Christmas is coming”.

I constantly think of how Christmas light flickers with us but will one day constantly glow; of how God’s kingdom is here but not yet fully realized. The horror our friend has faced makes me ask “why?” AND her beautifully deep capacity to give out of her little, make people laugh and protect her friends make me remember there is hope.

I just wish it all didn’t have to hurt so much. Please kingdom, come.

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Every Sunday we gather at 2 pm for a church service.

This past Sunday was no different, except that we had more people than usual: some sat cross-legged on the floor, others settled onto couches or chairs. I was almost late having been caught in a traffic jam and arrived to this crowd good-heartedly waiting for things to begin. Everyone helped get things set up within a matter of minutes. Though I arrived at 1:54 (!) we started at 2:06. It’s true that whatever we do, we do together.

For those of you who haven’t joined us before, we are a diverse group. Some of us are single and working, some are families with little ones, some are living rough outside, some are dealing with a disability, etc. Despite our differing circumstances we share this: we are very human AND created in the image of God.

Yesterday the pain was palpable in the room. Without unfairly sharing too much, during the prayer time people talked about how hard life can be. Some spoke of extensive loss; of too much death; of broken relationships; of poverty. One acknowledged that he just doesn’t get it- where is God in all this hell? People openly wept.

In and through this something remarkable happened: we landed on holy ground. There was nothing any of us could do except listen to the pain, gather close and pray for one another. It was emotional, vulnerable and REAL. For some it was maybe too much and meant leaving early, though I saw those same people today and they each intend to be back. This journey can require the baby-est of steps.

One person expressed their gratitude that “there’s a church like this that can even welcome a heretic like me”. Yes. Heretics like all of us. None of us have it right. The truth is, we are each capable of not conforming to what is good and acceptable and pure. Too often the church is the last place we go.

May it start to be the first.

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The Dale (formerly PNC) really does not have a building.

I have found myself saying this again and again recently. Of course, sometimes I’m talking to someone who is just learning about us. Other-times though it is to those who have been following this journey for a while. I can usually tell when someone really gets it- like the virtual dots are being connected. “Oh! None of the buildings you use are YOURS”. Nope, none.

I’m not surprised by this. It may seem rather strange that a community as large as ours is so nomadic, especially in the middle of a city like Toronto. Throughout history groups of people have wandered, though nomadic behavior is increasingly rare in industrialized countries. I suppose that is part of our struggle telling this story: few people can relate to it, except of course many of The Dale’s own people: the ones who know what it means to be transient and under-housed.

I have been told the decision to move us onto the streets has increased the credibility of The Dale amongst those who were already there. For this I am grateful. I have admittedly never been homeless. This experience, though far from the reality of living rough outside, is helping me understand. I have enormous respect for my friends who have survived more than I can even imagine.

People ask me if we are now on the hunt for our own building. The quick answer is “no”. I can’t envision us being able to afford a building large enough to fit all our programming into. In truth though, I think even if we could manage it financially (which we can’t) I would be hesitant. What started as a crazy, albeit out of necessity experiment has grown into something beautiful. We’re still here! And we more fully inhabit the neighbourhood by being outside and via some amazing partnerships.

Plus we never have to worry about a leaky roof or exploding boiler. I’m down with that.

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Just a couple of weekends ago, a pile of The Dale community members loaded into a school bus and began the trek to Camp Koinonia, a picturesque spot just outside of Parry Sound. I have to admit, I was a little anxious, partially because whenever you get together a group as diverse as us, things can get unpredictable. Of course that which makes me nervous is more often than not, that which makes for the best time. And this weekend can truly be described as one of those “best times”.

People went canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding. Some braved the water directly. Others wandered in the woods. Many fished off the dock, determined to get at least a nibble. We sang, talked about the gifts we bring to the community and made art. Surprisingly epic games of ping-pong took place. Kids and adults played together. A fire was going in the great big stone fireplace ALL weekend. We ate a lot of food. We shared communion. One person (who is without a home) took multiple hot showers because he could.

One of the most precious moments for me happened around the very grand campfire that a few people helped build.  We had already been enjoying s’mores and singing, when someone shared what they were grateful for about the weekend and extended the invitation for others to do the same. The teenager amongst us spoke of being able to truly socialize, grateful for how non-judgemental everyone was. Others were relishing not having to listen to sirens while being able to see the stars. Some felt clear-headed for the first time in a long time. One said, “I never get to do this kind of thing. I’m usually alone. I just like being with all of you and listening to you talk”. It went on and on. I don’t know if anybody saw me, but it all just made me weep. Tears not born of sadness, but of gladness and gratitude.

What became evident from the moment we stepped off that big yellow bus, was that this group intended to take care of each other. People helped one another up and down the hill that is Koinonia, get warm drinks, do dishes, learn new board games and how to use a pitching wedge, take pictures and even roast, not torch a marshmallow. Admittedly, there were a few obstacles along the way: some missed the bus and didn’t get to come, some found the hill a little too challenging, some wanted to have more (or fewer) to a cabin. We’ll work on those things. In the big scheme of things though, these issues were small. I actually promise I’m not embellishing the overall feel of the weekend. It really was all this.

You’ll just have to join us next time.