Archives for the month of: November, 2020

It is now Advent, that time when we prepare and wait in expectant hope for Christmas. 

I feel pensive about this season. On the one hand, I love it: the candles being lit one by one, slowly bringing light to the darkness, the traditions that have come to be a part of it, the growing excitement for the arrival of Jesus. On the other, I have a deep sense of unresolved longing: for hope to manifest itself in the total healing of people, for justice to roll, for the kingdom to get here fully and completely.

Oftentimes when I am full of all kinds of feelings, I turn to music. Yesterday I listened to this song, on repeat:

Blessed are the ones who do not bury
All the broken pieces of their heart
Blessed are the tears of all the weary
Pouring like a sky of falling stars

Blessed are the wounded ones in mourning
Brave enough to show the Lord their scars
Blessed are the hurts that are not hidden
Open to the healing touch of God

The Kingdom is yours; the Kingdom is yours
Hold on a little more, this is not the end
Hope is in the Lord, keep your eyes on Him

Blessed are the ones who walk in kindness
Even in the face of great abuse
Blessed are the deeds that go unnoticed
Serving with unguarded gratitude

Blessed are the ones who fight for justice
Longing for the coming day of peace
Blessed is the soul that thirsts for righteousness
Welcoming the last, the lost, the least

Blessed are the ones who suffer violence
And still have strength to love their enemies
Blessed is the faith of those who persevere
Though they fall, they’ll never know defeat

Common Hymnal, Wilson, Spencer, Massey, Keyes

I find the idea that we are blessed when we are suffering a relief, and I also wonder, what does it mean? How does it even make sense? Years ago, I did a word study on the word ‘blessed’. I discovered that its root means to consecrate and speak well of, most often used toward God. To bless something means to view it as holy and sacred. Viewed through this lens, I believe that God consecrates our grief and poverty. God holds up and makes blessed those who are broken, revealing them as precious and having connection to Him. Similarly, when we seek peace, when we show mercy, when we mourn and when we are meek, God is connected to us. There is not an absence of God in life’s greatest challenges. 

I find comfort in this, especially right now, when so many things seem to be on fire. This year has stripped many things bare. We have all, in one way or another, experienced loss. For many in my own circle, the loss has inflated poverty and marginalization. Somehow in all of this, I have also noticed a surge of resiliency, a desire to create change, and increased resourcefulness. To quote CS Lewis, I do believe that “Aslan is on the move”.

Instead of straining ahead to Christmas, I do want to sit in Advent and look for the ways light is creeping into the picture, and for the ways it is already here. I pray for a hope that might persevere and be rooted in trust, a hope that sings, “hold on a little more, this is not the end”.

Today is an exciting day. Today we picked up our new outreach vehicle, a purchase made possible through the generosity of an anonymous donor. Today we further embrace that we are a community without our own building. We might not have walls, but we have wheels!

The Dale builds and supports relationships with people, many of whom are accustomed to being marginalized due to poverty, and all of its resulting challenges. During the COVID-19 pandemic we are taking action to ensure that people with these vulnerabilities receive tangible care in the form of food, supplies (including PPE, sleeping bags, blankets, etc.) and emotional care (phone calls, physically distant visits, etc.) 

COVID-19 has exposed how great the social divide is in this city and throughout our world. People who are under-housed have lost regular access to basic necessities. As an organization without our own building, The Dale has to creatively respond to our community’s needs, especially as we face the second wave of the virus, and winter. Of the five partner buildings that The Dale uses for its programming, only one has remained open through the pandemic. As a result, The Dale has identified the need to focus on outdoor outreach, including creating “drop-in” spaces around the neighbourhood by setting up chairs and outdoor heaters. By doing this we will be able to nurture relationships, discern people’s ongoing needs, and distribute food and supplies.

In keeping with The Dale’s philosophy, the emphasis will be on service provision that is rooted in relationship. We believe that this van offers:

Increased flexibility in terms of where to run a drop-in.

Increased capacity to assist community members with moving into housing. 

Increased capacity for pick-up and delivery of food and other resources. 

Increased visibility for The Dale around the neighbourhood. 

While this decision has been prompted by COVID-19, we know a vehicle will offer long-term benefit to The Dale (in fact, it has been a long-time dream). We have prioritized outdoor outreach since 2012, during which we have built a high level of trust with the community. Our commitment to being present on the street-level has been deeply held for years and will continue with or without a pandemic. 

We are grateful to our donor, Nigel at Formula Ford Lincoln Sales, and Pierre at AON Insurance (thank you all for answering my limitless questions) for bringing this project to life. Now to work, but first we celebrate!

Since March The Dale has been serving meals to-go, all outside. We set up outside of 201 Cowan Avenue. Every six feet along the sidewalk is a strip of bright yellow tape, a visual reminder that a line is now necessary. Sometimes the number of people snakes all the way to Queen Street, around the corner and down the block.

We miss not being able to share a meal around a table. The Dale is motivated to build and nurture participatory community, and we lament how the pandemic has impacted this. Having said that, there are no shortage of important and oftentimes beautiful moments that happen as we interact in line and around the neighbourhood on the street.

We can always hear this person coming, because their wheelchair has a loose shock and a missing wheel. Though in obvious need, it took some time for this person to feel safe to ask for or receive help. It was a long series of fairly short interactions that led to a significant conversation, one that has led to putting a plan in action for repairs to be completed on their mobility device.

Laid out on the sidewalk, we stopped to make sure this person was breathing. Fortunately, we were able to have a bit of a conversation and provide some water. It was clear that the day had been a very difficult one so far. At one point he reached out to grab a hand, so hungry for a brief, healthy touch. In that moment of connection, he spoke words of encouragement to each of us. We left feeling like everyone involved had just received a gift.

Some people in the line are very new to The Dale and have no context for how life in this community looked pre-COVID. It is fun to tell stories of drop-ins and open mic nights, of cooking together and playing board games, of making music and sharing prayer requests. It is encouraging to hear the new folks telling their own stories of The Dale: of how good a certain meal was, of making new friends, of eating freezies together in the heat of the summer, of discovering that we meet for church in a parking lot, and of how the bad weather doesn’t stop us from being “open”.

One day a person brought us two bags full of plastic bags, having noticed that we need them to hold all the things we are giving away. Someone else painted us a picture. Another gifted me a used tripod for my daughter, knowing that she is studying photography. These presents remind us that everyone is built to both give and receive, a value that cannot even be quashed by our current circumstances.

The poet John O’Donahue says that, “A life that wishes to honour its own possibility has to learn too how to integrate the suffering of dark and bleak times into a dignity of presence. Letting go of old forms of life, a tree practises hospitality towards new forms. It balances perennial energies of winter and spring within its own living bark. The tree can reach towards the light, endure wind, rain and storm, precisely because it is rooted.”

The Dale wants to be such a tree. Our roots are deep. We know who we are. We believe in what we do. We will be in the neighbourhood rain, snow, or shine. While the line is not our preference, we will seek to make it as Dale-ish as possible. There is grief, yes AND God is making a way through the sadness. For all of this we are grateful.

It is hard to believe that we are nearing the end of another year. As I reflect on all that has transpired during 2020, I am filled with a variety of emotions, ranging from sadness to joy, anxiety to peace, and everything in between. Overwhelmingly though, I feel a sense of gratitude. As a community we have remained intact despite the distance. We have leaned in to the opportunity to creatively address the limitations of COVID-19. There have been tears shed and laughs shared, our refrain often being, “we’re making it work!” or “we’re doing it!”

One constant has been change. We have needed to pivot more than once. Our set-up for giving out meals has been tweaked and then tweaked some more. Meagan has returned from her mat leave. Olivia got married. And most recently, Pete completed his contract with The Dale- we are grateful for and wish the best of things for Pete and his family during this time of transition.

As much as I love finding the words to describe the journey The Dale has and continues to be on, I think pictures can really help bring it to life. This is a vibrant place, one that is nurtured through the support of a very broad network of people. These pictures might be familiar to you, or maybe this is a first glimpse into the neighbourhood. Either way, I invite you to take a look.

Monday Lunch
Prepping meals and groceries for the community
Sunday
Ross and Sheila (not pictured) getting ready to help with deliveries
A community member’s first garden since being recently housed
Friends
Thursday Breakfast
The Dale Devotional- The Beatitudes
Jahn’s Memorial
Let’s do it
Rose
Where many friends are currently living
Pete, Meagan, Erinn, Joanna, Olivia