Archives for the month of: May, 2014

Fundraising is hard. Period.

I guess I feel like I want to admit this, not in order to induce guilt but to acknowledge my struggle. There are days when I think, “I’m done. I do not want to ask anybody else for money, ever.” Other days I buckle down and prayerfully pursue that which I must: the money to ensure that The Dale continues. I’m grateful that we run a very lean ministry, one that manages to do a lot every week on a small budget. It’s hard though to mix into such a full week the need to find the money for that budget.

My imagination sometimes wanders to a place where money is no longer necessary, where I get to just do what I love doing. I snap back to reality rather rapidly when I receive the insurance invoice or it is payroll time or more groceries are needed. I’m sure everyone, whether you have financial means or not, can relate on some level. Money plays a large role in this life. It’s hard to escape that.

Occasionally I weep over this challenge. I wonder where the next bit will come from because in the moment I can’t envision that it will come at all. I’m not being melodramatic: I was there when we had to consider closing because the account had run dry. It was terrifying, because while we had almost nothing left we had a thriving community of people who needed to remain together. An amazing thing happened in that desperate place- we decided in continuing regardless, whittling away expenses, building partnerships, sharing our story and trusting that we would find enough.

I have to reside in this story when I am overwhelmed with fundraising. I have to remember that we were provided for by so many different people. I often say that God multiplied the loaves and fishes in Parkdale and I mean it. Since that time our circle of support has expanded and strengthened, evidence that it was the right decision to remain open.

Some of the best things in my life have been hard-won. I am certain that however difficult it may be, fundraising for The Dale is entirely worth it. I just have to keep going. One step at a time.

tumblr_lw9r5ejEgb1qc0y9zo1_500

Advertisements

Spring is finally here and I’ve got gardening on the brain. I love getting my hands dirty. I love the way soil, fresh air and plants smell. I really love that there is a community garden in Parkdale that The Dale gets to be a part of. The garden is nestled beside a Community Centre and feels like a little oasis: when I am inside the gate I suddenly feel very far from the hustle and bustle of Queen Street.

Over the years we’ve endeavoured to grow an assortment of things to various degrees of success: tomatoes, carrots, swiss chard, lettuce, etc. We always plant a serious amount of herbs. During one of our more prolific harvests we were able to regularly send people home with packages of fresh food. I dream about being able to do that again.

I believe there is a lot that is important about community gardening. First, it reconnects people to the land: as city dwellers it can be easy to forget where our food actually comes from and gardening allows us to be in closer touch with it. Second, too often people forget the taste of fresh food because the cost can seem prohibitive or they simply have no place to store or cook it. Sharing smaller amounts of food from our own plot helps to combat this. Finally, gardening can help break down the kind of alienation that occurs when people are isolated. Gardening gets people outside where they must work cooperatively toward a common goal. There’s truly something satisfying about seeing a garden come to life.

I think we should each experience the wonderment of seeing a tiny seed buried in the ground, sprout, grow and produce fruit. Have you ever seen a child pull a carrot out of the ground for the first time? I remember the astonishment on my daughter Cate’s face when she yanked out a beautiful, long, bright orange root. I look forward to being similarly amazed this season.

carrotgrowing140

Last week I received a very lovely gift on the occasion of my birthday: a book full of encouragement from a beautiful collection of people in my life. One entry, from a Parkdale friend, said: “When Erinn isn’t smiling, she’s crying…”. This made me laugh out loud (through the tears). She’s right, I have very active tear ducts.

I went through a period when I wanted to temper my tears. I sometimes felt exhausted by the shear force of them. I attempted to will myself to not cry, to hold in that which so freely flowed. It sort of worked. I think I learned more about where my emotion was coming from. In some cases it exposed unhealthy behaviour and patterns in my life. It also made me realize that there is something very precious about crying and that I need not dry myself out.

One of the Bronte sisters once wrote, “But smiles and tears are so alike with me, they are neither of them confined to any particular feelings”. This resonates with me. Tears are a way for me to express my grief, regret, anger, embarrassment, joy and pride. I can laugh so hard that tears stream down my face, and then when no one else finds what I find funny, I tearfully laugh even more (this happens a lot). Occasionally I cry for what seems like no apparent reason until I realize that a smell or some other sense has triggered an old memory. I routinely weep over injustice.

Though sometimes I feel like a crazy mess, I know that crying has a cleansing quality to it. I quite often feel like I need to let myself weep so that I can take a deep breath and keep going. I’m grateful too for friends who know me and accept me as I am, including my friend who says it like it is: when I’m not smiling, I’m crying. Ha.

water-droplets

 

Parkdale is changing. It is a neighbourhood that has seen ups and downs over the years. At first it was an affluent “suburb” of Toronto, one close to the lake with sprawling homes. Then the Gardiner Expressway was built, effectively cutting off people’s access to the water. Couple this with the de-institutionalization of mental health care which led to people being let out of Queen Street Mental Health Institute, and Parkdale became a neighbourhood in decline. I’m sure these were not the only factors in what became the changing face of the west-end, though I do believe they had a significant impact. The people with means began to move elsewhere while those struggling to get by moved into the once single family dwellings turned rooming houses. To this day there are people who believe that to be from Parkdale means you must be poor.

When I walk along Queen Street West now I am struck by how rapidly it is shifting. For instance, a once derelict building has been transformed into a sushi bar. It always causes me pause, not because I don’t like sushi but rather because of how *different* it feels. The rooming houses are being transformed back into their original state. All of this represents to me that Parkdale is facing gentrification.

I asked one of my community friends how she felt about the change. “I don’t like it” was the response. This person is worried about how she, along with countless others, face being displaced from a neighbourhood that is home. She doesn’t resent the new businesses and restaurants necessarily. She does fear that there will be no more room for the dollar store and more easily accessible (read: affordable) coffee shops and little grocery markets. I was intrigued though by her number one concern: “there are hardly any benches for us to sit on anymore”.

This got me thinking about the surge of videos and articles in the media about our attachment to the virtual world: our phones, social media and access to immediate information. So many of us are constantly on the go, with our heads down. My friend, along with the majority of The Dale community don’t have the option to be glued to a screen. Instead, they congregate outside in public spaces, most often where there is a stoop or a lonely bench. This often raises concern from those who would rather not have people loitering outside. I understand where that comes from and certainly get that a person’s behaviour can go sideways if that loitering includes something like drinking. Conversely, I think there is something to be learned from the kind of community that is formed when people linger on a bench together.

The challenge for Parkdalians, both old and new is to navigate the morphing landscape together. My hope is that we can learn how to co-exist and actually model this to neighbourhoods around Toronto that might face similar change. I suspect it might start with sitting outside together. I agree with my friend, we need some more benches.

transforming-urban-bench-design

 

I recently spoke at a regional gathering of a network of people known as StreetLevel. Some people asked if I would share the same words here…

On a sunny day in June, nearly two years ago, I had to pull down the Parkdale Neighbourhood Church (PNC) sign from both the gate and door at 201 Cowan Avenue. For me, this act made things official: PNC no longer had its own building. That was the day we became a church without our own walls. I like to say it was when we “spilled into the streets”.

Fast forward to the present. Parkdale Neighbourhood Church is now known as The Dale Ministries. You might wonder why we would seemingly shift away from “church” by changing our name. As an organization we don’t function as a traditional church institution, for instance, we are not made self-sufficient based on tithing. Our people give, they just give out of very little. We came exceedingly close to ceasing to exist because of this. Playing with the language that had become a barrier to our long-term stability was worth it. At the beginning of our search for a new name, I asked our community members to describe what PNC meant to them. Though there were many descriptors used, the number one word was “safe”. A dale is a valley that cuts through a mountain, the place where one hides when facing a storm. Every day The Dale Ministries, or more often simply The Dale, endeavours to be a safe community for many, including me.

We are a varied group: some of us live rough outside, some in community housing and some in houses of our own. Some of us are struggling with addiction to street drugs or alcohol or television or eating too much food. Some of us have diagnosed mental health challenges that range from depression to schizophrenia. Some of us are refugees. Some of us are seniors. You get the picture. All of us are broken. We choose again and again to journey alongside one another toward deeper wholeness in Christ. We choose to be church. For The Dale this journey continues without a building of our own.

To be honest, I was relieved when the move out of our former space was finally done. The amount of “stuff” that had accumulated was, at least for me, astonishing. As we purged almost all of our belongings and packed just a few, I became thankful for the freedom from things. I also became admittedly overwhelmed, occasionally stressed and rather emotional. During that time I remember reading this: “You gain confidence through knowing that I am with you- that you face nothing alone. Anxiety stems from asking the wrong question: ‘If such and such happens, can I handle it?’ The true question is not whether you can cope with whatever happens, but whether you and I can handle anything that occurs.”

Becoming under-housed was an opportunity for me to discover if I was asking the right question. This was truly scary, for as right as I believe it was to move, it meant entering a time of unknown, of in between, of newness. In response to the question, “what is something that makes you sad?” one of our youngest community members drew a picture of many stick people carrying a large box. She said she felt sad that the people were carrying away her church. It was indeed what was happening in the eyes of that little person.

It was important to honour that sadness. I didn’t want to belittle the magnitude of the change. I joined with others in weeping. I also had to persist in announcing that as a community we could exist outside of a building. Today I am here to say we are still a community and that yes, though “church” is no longer in our name, we very much function as one. We continue to gather; to support; to create; to eat together; to question; to pray; to worship; to dance; to love.

By spilling into the streets we more fully inhabit our neighbourhood. By knocking on the doors of our neighbours we have found space (though it sometimes revolves) to run our programs: in churches, in stores, in community AND health centres- space that we don’t have keys for, but that costs us nothing. We have the opportunity to be shown hospitality at the same time as giving it. How beautiful is that?

Henri Nouwen once said, “Loving the Church often seems close to impossible. Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church – whether powerful or powerless, conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic – belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared. When we remember that, we may be able to say, ‘I love the Church, and I am glad to belong to it’…Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace. And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it.”

In the context of this little struggling church community I am/we are reminded of God’s presence. God has seen fit to multiply the loaves and the fishes in Parkdale and I mean this literally. On days when there was no money to purchase food for our drop-in we somehow had full plates. I am no longer the only staff- we are the Dale girls: Erinn and Joanna, surrounded by a community that has heard the invitation into full participation. Two years into this wild experiment we still exist! We are HERE. And we’re thriving.

My love for the church, my love for The Dale, is a true love.

Dale Ministries Logo-1