Archives for posts with tag: Community

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

I had to drive somewhere today. I turned on the radio, just in time to hear a favourite Vinyl Cafe story about the fictional character, Morley. In it, Morley is described as a lover of fall. But, says the narrator, fall can be a “perilous partner”- for if winter is the warm hearth, summer sweet sorrow, spring the eternal optimist, then autumn is the season of wistfulness. It holds on until winter’s arrival, producing a kind of melancholy in the process.

This description of the autumn resonates with me at the moment. I think all weekend I have been feeling a keen sense of nostalgia, one that makes me both smile and weep.

Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday. He has been gone since 2008, but October 12th will always be the day he burst into the world. On this past weekend in 2008 my Mom came to our house for the first time in four and a half years, years spent exclusively in the hospital. She couldn’t eat any food through her mouth anymore, so instead we had what affectionately came to be called an “aroma buffet”. I still expect her to roll up the ramp to our back door, even though she too is gone.

The Dale did not get to go on our annual fall retreat this year. However, we did gather on Sunday for a church service. We met outdoors. It called me back to the days when we first became a church without walls (literally). As I looked around at the community, I was struck by how far we’ve come; how may seasons we have weathered together. Sitting in that parking lot, some of us wrapped in hand knit blankets, a vase-full of sunflowers on the altar, surrounded by the sound of the wind, I pictured a Phoenix rising out of the ashes, an image that I have returned to frequently to describe the journey of The Dale.

I got lost in a box of photos recently. Pictures of big family gatherings for turkey and potatoes, me and my cousins playing, little Cate, family from Newfoundland out for a walk to admire the fall colours. I was reminded of an October weekend spent in Killarney when I must have been 8 or 9. We decided to hike the Chikanishing Trail on a very wet day, except I had no boots. To the rescue: some plastic bags and rubber bands. So many memories of this time of year.

I have much to be grateful for in my past, I also have much to be grateful for right now. My uncle gave me a call over the weekend; we got to see my brother, sister-in-law, nephews and niece; Cate is settling in to university; Dion is doing well; The Dale community is still a phoenix; I have family who are friends and friends who are like family; I get to live and work in a city I love; I am known and loved by the Creator.

Once the story on the radio came to an end, I spent the remainder of my drive lost in remembrances and filled with gratitude. Like autumn, I am holding on. The colours are vibrant and the air is crisp. It’s a perfect time to wear a sweater. And, while the winter may be coming, I keep reminding myself that there is always the promise of spring.

News From The Dale:

Joanna Moon becomes the Lead Community Worker at The Dale.

The Dale staff team is now five people, an all time high! As a flatter organization, we collectively generate ideas, plans and goals. At the same time, we inhabit different roles. In order to celebrate and name the role that Joanna has grown into over the years, we are pleased to announce that she is now “Lead Community Worker”.

Meagan Knight completes her maternity leave and returns to work in October.

Nearly a year ago we announced the arrival of Charlotte, Meagan and Ian’s beloved child. Now Meagan is preparing to reintegrate at The Dale, beginning on October 13th. We are so looking forward to having her back!

Olivia Dower and Grant Scott to marry on October 12.

Though the journey to the wedding has been made challenging due to COVID-19, Olivia and Grant’s day is now right around the corner. While the community cannot be there in person, we are certainly there in spirit. Please join us in showering this couple with love.

The Dale meets on a Sunday afternoon under a blue sky.

One of the most difficult things about this year is how it has impacted our ability to gather. Last Sunday a small group met under sunshine and a blue sky to sit in silence, pray, hear Scripture, pass peace, and take communion. Because we do not have a building of our own, we will continue doing this as long as the weather allows (and then we’ll come up with another plan, because pivoting is our middle name).

Meals continue to be offered for take-away every Monday and Thursday.

Anyone needing a meal is invited to receive one every Monday at 1 pm and Thursday at 10 am from the front of 201 Cowan Avenue. We have frozen meals for people with the means to reheat, and heated meals for those who do not. While the line can be long, we work hard to make it go as quickly as possible. Along the way, we prioritize connecting well with one another, developing new relationships and nurturing those we already have.

Some people called him “Rasta” others, “Dreads”, but to us he was simply Jahn. I first met Jahn when he regularly hung out at the now defunct Coffee Time on Queen St West. He would always shout a greeting, even when I was still a block away. I noticed three things about Jahn right away: his kind smile, his radio worthy voice, and his unbelievable hair- dreadlocks that when released from his tam (hat) were longer than he was tall.

Over time, Jahn became a regular at The Dale. I always appreciated his presence at our drop-ins. The place we most often saw him the last few years was the parkette beside Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. He became one of the unofficial caretakers of the space, making sure that it was kept as clean as possible. At Christmas he helped decorate one of the trees with a variety of ornaments, saying that it was a good way to spread some cheer. Not long ago he was hired as a Peer Worker for the Health Centre’s Harm Reduction Program, a role that he was keen to fill.

Jahn loved dogs. A week or two ago while we were on outreach, he excitedly showed us pictures of the two puppies he recently got. He lit up talking about them and describing the good tired he was because of their endless energy. The dogs, a new place, and the Peer Worker job all made his big smile even broader.

Over our many years of friendship, even if I was the first to ask, “how are you doing?”, Jahn would wait to answer until I told him what was going on in my own life. No matter how challenging circumstances got, Jahn would express gratitude for life. “It’s a gift just to be walking around, you know?”

This past Monday I had a conversation with Jahn where he again expressed his upbeat outlook on life, though he wasn’t feeling physically great- nothing to worry about he assured me. He even let my daughter Cate and her friend take the pictures included here. Cate has a video of him too, one that is beautiful and now very hard to watch. We don’t know what happened between Monday and today, but this morning we learned of Jahn’s death. I can’t believe it. Many people are reeling from the news.

Jahn: thank you for the gift of your friendship. I am fortunate to have known your gentleness and your smile. Your absence is already felt. You will be missed on the block. You will be missed by The Dale. You will be missed by me.

May you now rest in deep peace. 

I first met Paula through her role as Team Lead for Project Serve, an arm of Youth Unlimited. Since then, Paula has become a dear friend. I know her to have the gift of encouragement, the best laugh, and the desire to build deep and authentic relationships. One of the greatest things is that we now all get to see her every Monday at The Dale. You are loved Paula! Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this space. To read more from Paula check out her own blog at: https://choosetoriseabove.blogspot.com

Picture this with me, will you? 

You approach a full table of people. On one side, you see people you recognize. One wears his addiction on his sleeve. Another does not. One was born in Toronto. Another was not. 

On the other side of the table, however, sit a few people you don’t know. You look them up and down and try to figure them out before considering sitting in the empty chair beside them. Are they safe? Can you trust them? Will you have anything in common?

Before you can answer that, a plentiful platter of deliciousness gets delivered to your table – made with more love than your heart can accept at times – and you realize that you do indeed have something in common: like the person sitting next to you, it’s lunch time and you’re hungry. 

All of a sudden, you feel at home. One of the people you rarely know scoops potatoes onto your plate while another pours you a cold cup of water, and soon, very soon, you start to realize that you have a lot more in common than just being hungry. 

You see, no matter where you were born or where you grew up, what kind of baggage you brought in with you that day or why you ended up there in the first place, at the Dale, there’s a seat at the table for you.

They have a seat at the table. 

You have a seat at the table. I have a seat at the table. 

Only at this table, there is no they, you or I, there is only us. 

It was a Monday. We were gathered in the large room we use each week for The Dale’s drop-in. Just the day before we had occasion for multiple celebrations: a person finding an apartment after eight months of living outside, new housing for our Community Worker Pete, his wife Frances and their four children, someone declaring The Dale to now be their community. We also prayed for the two babies set to make their entrance very soon. I think it is safe to say we collectively needed a taste of joy, and the hope was that it might permeate the week ahead.

Mondays are always a riot of activity, especially between 1 and 2 pm when the meal is being shared and clean-up commences. I was busy grabbing some supplies from the storage room when I noticed what had the potential to be explosive. Just weeks before two people had a very serious conflict. They had not interacted since. I held my breath as they approached one another and embraced, while offering words of regret and forgiveness. My eyes welled up and I started to jump up and down to get Joanna and Pete’s attention, hoping that they too might bear witness to what honestly felt like a miracle. I think I hopped the entire length of the crowded room to the kitchen.

As I often say, living in community is both messy and beautiful. Sometimes it is downright hard, especially when life feels more bleak than bright. There are many more people who still need affordable housing, some of our relationships remain strained, and conflicts continue to erupt. I am grateful though to be a part of a place where we keep trying to work these things out. We fail. I fail. And we try again.

In the midst of it all, there are incredible moments of provision and reconciliation. New life, both literal and figurative is happening. All of this makes me, however silly it might look, jump up and down.

I am reading a book, given to me recently by a friend, that has me thinking about blessings: “Everyone in the world matters, and so do their blessings…Those who bless and serve life find a place of belonging and strength, a refuge from living in ways that are empty and lonely…When people are blessed they discover their lives matter. And when you bless others, you may discover this same thing is true about yourself.” (Rachel Naomi Remen)

Here are three stories of blessings, all of which happened this week.

One of our friends got in some trouble and had to very quickly put their beloved pet in the care of another person. Sadly, the person was not in the healthiest position themselves and the dog seemed to pick up on it. He bolted and ran…right to where he usually sees us, The Dale. As I discussed this with a friend involved in the situation, she said, “I really think this says something about your community. Even the dog knows The Dale as a safe space”.

I was standing in front of a teller doing some banking for The Dale. She noticed our name and asked what we do, so I told her a bit about us. We carried on with our business for a few minutes before she asked some more questions. I started to gather up my belongings to go when she said, “I have been carrying around what I call my widow’s mite for months. I haven’t known where to give it, until today. Would you accept a gift from me for The Dale?”. I stood stunned as she handed me an envelope with a cash donation inside.

Joanna, Meagan, Pete and I were asked to do an apartment blessing by a friend. We were welcomed in to her bright, spacious place (a far cry from her last situation) with open arms, offered cookies and sprite, and given a quick tour. We gathered at her door and in her living room to pray. It felt like a deep honour to have our team be asked to do this with and for this person.

Sometimes blessings come in quiet ways from unexpected people (or a dog). And, as Remen continues in her book, “Unlike helping and fixing and rescuing, service is mutual.” Both our friend and her dog regularly surround us with love. The teller was grateful for the work of The Dale and I was grateful for her support. For me, the apartment person is a years-long friend, one who is willing to be painfully vulnerable about her long and difficult life journey, while being one of the most profoundly encouraging people I know.

Blessings, to my understanding, are not about big, material things. Nor are they about everything in life going exactly as planned. They can be little acts of service. They show up in our brokenness. And they are all around us. This week I want to be very intentional about looking for ways to bless and having the eyes to see the many blessings around me.

I have long been convinced that when a group of people gathers around a table a unique form of community is built. Learning to be side-by-side, passing the platter, pouring one another a drink: it all helps.

Much of life at The Dale involves a table. On Mondays we have multiple long tables set up around the room. On Tuesdays we play Scrabble around one at the back of the Salvation Army Thrift Store. In the summer we find ourselves sitting at picnic tables in parks. On Thursdays we set three tables up like a huge T. On Sundays our focal point is a little wooden table, laden with the bread, wine and juice.

Oh, the stories we have about life at the table.

The Dale has its own version of Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy guys from The Muppet Show. They like to sit across from each other even though they drive each other crazy. We sometimes try to (unsuccessfully) split them up, only to discover them reunited and carrying on with their banter.

Sometimes a person comes in so distraught that they collapse at a table. One day a friend stumbled in and placed her head down. I joined her, leaning as close to the tabletop as she was. We exchanged thoughts in whispers. Her hiccupy crying the only thing audible to the rest of the room. To this day we both reference this encounter as pivotal to our friendship.

At a drop-in by the lake, two unlikely friends sat at the picnic table. She invited him to lay down on the bench while gently stroking his hair. We wanted to freeze the moment in time: a sweet escape from their otherwise challenging realities.

Just after blessing the communion elements, a community member joined me at the table to begin the process of passing each around. This friend, battle-worn and vulnerable, looked me right in the eye and in reference to the bread said, “get it in you”.

As staff we sit around a kitchen table on Wednesday mornings. It’s where I sit while writing this. We bat around ideas, type in collective silence, laugh, and eat. It is an important part of team building.

All these moments remind me of how important it is to extend welcome to the tables we like to count as ours. We want to make space at The Dale. This increasingly means gathering even more closely together so that we can make space for another chair. At tables we can share our brokenness and offer blessing. Whether we are grumpy or cheerful, connected or lonely, weary or energetic, there is room at the table.

Lately, I have been feeling reflective about the journey that has been The Dale. It was nearly seven years ago that we gave up our leased space and became a nomadic community. At the time (and maybe still) many thought it a crazy decision on my part. I could feel the skepticism. I don’t think anyone wanted us to fail, I just think some wondered how it could possibly work.

I remember being scared for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the thought of messing things up. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to close down and yet I knew that to be a very real possibility. It seemed wise to set markers in the first year, ones that if not met would signal the plan wasn’t working. Looking back, I am struck by how often we were surprised by grace, again and again experiencing unexpected provision.

I know that God invited me to step in to a role that I would never have considered myself for. I felt inadequate and strangely determined. Fortunately, I was and continue to be surrounded and supported by my family, a Board, and our precious community. I continue to learn from Jesus’ example that to lead I must serve, a posture that is messy, challenging and necessary to choose repeatedly.

At my ordination examining council a community member said, “Erinn is no stranger to suffering, and so she can walk with us”. What a relief that I get to be a part of a community where that is valued. I don’t need to pretend that everything is easy, when everything is not. Together we are discovering what it means to lament well, to practice gratitude, to engage in prayer, to feast together, to admit our failures, to apologize and forgive, and to be transformed by God.

Last week The Dale led a workshop at Assembly, the annual gathering of our denomination. During the debrief time near the end, I sat at the front alongside our team: Joanna, Meagan, Pete, and our two interns, Jan and David. Six of us. Even as I type that I have to stop and take it in. Seven years ago, I was alone. I can’t help but weep tears of wonder.

It is a privilege to be a participant in the work of The Dale. Thank you to everyone, past and present, who has been a part of the journey. I have tucked our many stories in my heart and love knowing that there are countless more to come.