Archives for posts with tag: Parkdale

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.

The Dale has no walls of its own, unless you count the tiny post office box we rent. This does not mean we place a low value on buildings. Quite the contrary. We rely on the hospitality of buildings throughout Parkdale and even one outside of its borders to host our gatherings and do administrative work. We also understand that connecting well with our community means being outside, noticing people in coffee shops, and visiting those who are bound to home or hospital. We are nomads with a schedule.

The challenge in this is creating spaces that. though they are not our own, feel like The Dale. Seemingly little things help: using our own plates, mugs and cutlery on Mondays; placing the Scrabble board on the table at the Thrift Store; setting the communion table with our stole, a candle holder donated by a community member, a brass plate for the bread, and our cups. People notice if these items are missing.

These material contents (however few and important they might be), are not what primarily what make our spaces home-like. I think the transition to calling something home happens when we start to think of a space as “ours”. The Dale is its people. However chaotic or calm our spaces might be, we try to inhabit them in a way that fosters a sense of peace, safety, and respect.

Making the decision to give notice and spill into the street in 2012 was never made lightly. I recall how important it was for the community to grieve the loss of our space, especially considering that many people had no other place to call home. What it gave rise to is the recognition that we are not limited to our walls.

Now we gently live in the tension of needing buildings and being without one of our own. This has been our reality for nearly six years. As we face a new year, I want to acknowledge the importance of space, express gratitude for all of our building partners and the neighbourhood of Parkdale and honour our community members who make The Dale (whatever space we might be in) feel like home.

When I pause to reflect on the last year at The Dale, it’s the seemingly little moments that keep popping into my head. In work like ours, it is easy to want to share the big successes: this person was living outside and now is housed; we served x amount of meals over the course of twelve months, and so on. While such stories are amazing and obvious evidence of the validity of this work, there is much beauty in the everyday grind of being a community. 

“Tom” is one of the quietest people I know. When he speaks it is usually to ask for a coffee, or to say a quick hello. There is something very meek about Tom: he tends to keep his head down, his small stature hidden with a too-large coat. At a recent drop-in, he was sitting at the end of the table listening, but not engaging with the chatter around him, until something struck him as funny. Hearing Tom laugh (for the first time in the many years I have known him) made my heart swell. At the end of the gathering, he followed me, Joanna and Meagan outside. As I hugged my colleagues good-bye, Tom held open his arms and cautiously moved toward me: “Erinn, hug”- another first. 

“Clare” came in to our Monday Drop-In while we were just about finished with clean-up. Newer to The Dale, she was encouraged to come, mostly because everything she owned was drenched and needed something dry to wear before returning to her shelter bed. Our clothing supply fluctuates, but on this particular day someone had dropped off a huge amount of women’s clothing which still lay in a heap. Clare proceeded to fold every piece of clothing, carefully choosing a few things for herself, but not before handing me things that she was sure “would fit and look great on so and so”. She managed to take care of herself, our clothing room AND others in less than twenty-five minutes. 

He walked in to the Sunday service already upset, nearly poised for a fight. The first person to greet him unwittingly managed to trigger the anger further. I felt a lump in my throat at the prospect of a service that might feel on edge. I encouraged the two to honour each other’s space and proceeded to busy myself with set-up. After a few opening songs I invited everyone to stand for the passing of the peace, an opportunity to greet one another with either a handshake, a wave, a hug or even an elbow-bump (whatever is best for each person). I watched in amazement as the two people, so angry and sad at the beginning, apologized to one another and embraced. The tension that had been so thick suddenly dissipated and we continued with another song. 

There are so many stories I want to tell you about, like: the two street-weary men who call themselves uncles to my Cate and love to give her gifts, especially chocolate bars; the look of glee on our friend’s face when we managed to find a mobility scooter for him, replacing a terribly unsafe, wobbly walker; the woman who comes and shares her tears generously with us, and the man who quietly notices and finds Kleenex to dry them; the friend who is discovering that no matter how many times he falls off the wagon, he is loved by us, not shunned; the privilege we feel when someone allows us into their home to help ready it for an inspection by the landlord; what it feels like to have a community that allows me to share my own struggles. 

In 2018 at The Dale we have said goodbye to friends and grieved their absence, protested injustice and advocated for our community, walked Queen Street West countless times, partnered with numerous organizations, fought with and forgiven one another (or are working on it), made and eaten a LOT of meals together, and sought to create spaces that are safe and respectful. We are slowly, bit by bit, learning what it means to love God and love our neighbor. It is hard, messy, and wonderful. 

There is joy in this journey. 

Breakfast and Art Drop-In at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre


Service of Ordination at ESM 


Second Harvest Agency Cookbook, featuring Souad Sharabani’s recipe and The Dale

 
Part of The Dale’s Ride for Refuge Team

 
Baptism in Lake Ontario


Monday Drop-In at BPC


Our summer interns, Ahmeda (centre) and Olivia (right)


The Dale Fall Retreat, Camp Koinonia


Carolling in Parkdale


The “Dale Girls”


New freedom!



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

Charity Art Auction Poster-3

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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It has occurred to me a few times since the beginning of this year that as of February, I have been working in Parkdale for ten years. I can’t believe that it has been a decade, which is maybe why I repeatedly forget to even mention it. Cate was in senior kindergarten at the time. Now she’s in high school. Needless to say, a lot has happened since 2007.

Over the years I have persistently felt a deep sense of call to my work, even when (or maybe especially when) I would rather hide under a blanket and never come out. In some of my darkest times, it has been God’s still small voice inviting me to stay that has kept me going. When I was asked to re-vision the ministry of Parkdale Neighbourhood Church I was terrified. Now, five years into being The Dale Ministries, I am entirely grateful that I decided to try.

The building of friendships in Parkdale has been slow, steady work. I have walked the strip of Queen Street West between Dufferin Street and Roncesvalles Avenue countless times. I know good shortcuts through alleys. If I can’t find a person in their usual spot, I can often guess where else they might be. I have sat with people in ambulances, accompanied many to the ER at St Joseph’s Hospital, and kept vigil in its ICU. Week after week, year after year, I have fallen in love with the people of the village-like neighbourhood that is Parkdale.

Being at The Dale has taught me a lot. I have learned about delegation, diffusing conflict, and decision-making. I now know how to identify bedbugs, safely dispose of needles, and administer Nolaxone. I can write a partnership agreement. I have come to realize that while I want to please everyone it is impossible to do (and that’s okay). I see my weaknesses. I better understand the beauty and blessedness in brokenness, and that in sharing our wounds we can begin to heal.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed. The amount of death experienced in this work is too much. Having to ask people for the money to cover my salary and the general fund of The Dale is daunting and downright hard. By the end of certain drop-ins my head is spinning because I’ve heard my name called easily one thousand times. And then a person walks up to me and reminds me of how I am valued and loved, and that The Dale is necessary and a primary source of community for so many people, including me. In that moment I take a deep breath and think, “I can’t imagine doing anything else”.

Being close to people who know poverty has helped me see the ways in which I am poor myself. Together we remind each other to take each day moment by moment. Often it is a Dale friend who pulls me back when I’m worrying about a future that has yet to happen. We are journeying toward a deeper understanding of God and the ways that Jesus transforms us. It’s far from neat and tidy AND it is so good.

As I reflect on ten years in Parkdale and nearly twenty-three in street ministry, I am reminded of the words of Isaiah: “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” I have the honour of working at The Dale, a place that has spilled into the streets. It is exciting to imagine how each little bit of repair we are involved in is leading us to hope. There is a Sara Groves song that says, “That’s a little stone, that’s a little mortar. That’s a little seed, that’s a little water. In the hearts of the sons and daughters…this kingdom’s coming”. I believe that to be true.

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