Chevy

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As I write this I still can’t quite believe that it’s true: our dear friend Shannon “Chevy” Timmerman has died. Chevy is someone who has been on death’s door any number of times, but we’ve usually been right there with her. I don’t even know how many times I’ve said goodbye to her, thinking it was the last time. The fact that she died suddenly last night is just so jarring.

Chevy has been part of my life for as long as I’ve been at The Dale. She had an uncanny way of worming her way deep into people’s hearts, while simultaneously being frustrating to no end. She loved animals with a passion, especially her dog Jacob who was with her until the very end. At one point she owned seven or eight cats, the oldest of which (Terry) had been with her for about 20 years. She was known to walk with through Parkdale pushing a mesh cage/stroller containing at least one of her beloved feline friends.

Chevy was no stranger to pain. She lived through more difficulty that you would think anyone could, and somehow always seemed to bounce back. Like her cats, she seemed to have nine lives (at least). Despite all that struggle, she somehow maintained an openness to life and love that was quite extraordinary. She was generous and very hospitable (sometimes to her own detriment). Having experienced many years of life on the street, she was always eager to offer a place for people to stay when she was housed.

Chevy was an artist, and one of the things that cemented our friendship was a shared love of the Art Gallery of Ontario. We went there on a number of excursions over the years, and this past Monday (just three days ago) we talked on the phone about our plans to go back, as soon as COVID would allow. I treasure those memories, along with the painting of a ladybug that she gave to us back in 2013 with this message written on the back: “I know I’m a bug, but I’m your guys’ bug now!”

Chevy was a person of deep, raw faith. She would show up to our church services, sitting right at the front with Jacob. She would sometimes toss a ball down the aisle for Jacob to fetch. She often helped Erinn to serve communion, passing the cup of wine to each person saying “the blood of Christ. Get it into ya!” During our communal prayer time she would offer up her heart to God in a way that was vulnerable, trusting, sometimes pissed off, and usually very grateful. The one thing that brings me joy today is knowing that Chevy is safe in the arms of the One who loved her; the One who has now given her the peace of mind and heart that she so often struggled to experience while she was here with us.

There’s a lot more than I could say about Chevy, but I feel like nothing I write can do her justice, or fully explain the unique place that she holds in my heart and the hearts of many. So I’ll end this post with a few photos that I hope can show you a bit more of the sassy, loving, dramatic, creative person that she was. Rest well, Chevy. We love you.

When things work out

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I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all grown weary of bad news. It’s been a looooong year, and COVID fatigue is hitting all of us, in one way or another. Even if things are relatively okay in your little sphere, it’s likely that you’re still feeling more irritable and frazzled than seems reasonable, especially when the doom-y headlines keep coming.

SO… here’s a wee little story from The Dale today, about those somewhat rare and therefore very lovely moments when things just work out:

It was a drippy lunch hour, but folks seemed eager to stick around and chat after receiving their meal-to-go. Some people were doing pretty well, and just wanted to socialize for a minute. Some people were having a really hard time, and needed to vent.

One friend pulled up on his bicycle, laden down with a bag of artwork. He is an artist, and his place has apparently become overly full with his pieces. He offered a bag of paintings to me, to be re-distributed. I hesitated because The Dale doesn’t a ton of storage space, but I really wanted to honour the gift that this friend was giving to us. I thanked him, and took the bag.

A moment or two later, I remembered another conversation that I’d had with a friend who is newly-housed. This person is struggling to make his place feel like a home, as the walls are completely bare. He had asked me to keep an eye out for pictures to help him fill the empty spaces…! Luckily, he was still hanging out in the area, so I was able to hand him the entire bag of paintings. He was thrilled, and took off down the street to buy some double-sided tape with which to hang his new home decor.

So there you go. Sometimes things work out. 🙂

Getting to Know the Neighbours

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One of the many adjustments that The Dale has faced this past year is that we mainly operate out of one space, rather than somewhere different every day of the week. Thanks to our new van (lovingly known as Morrison), we are able to carry lots of supplies with us when we engage in street outreach, connecting with folks in a variety of locations around the neighbourhood. But for the most part we spend our time at 201 Cowan Ave, either in the basement doing food prep and office work, or outside running our programming.

While I really miss our pre-COVID way of operating, I am so grateful to its leadership that this space has remained available to The Dale during the pandemic (when all of our other partner buildings have needed to close). I am also very grateful for the opportunity to build deeper sort of relationships with our current neighbours at 201 Cowan Ave.

This building is primarily known as Epiphany and St. Mark Anglican Church, but is also currently home to a few other organizations: Greenest City (GC), Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT), and Flick the Switch.

Greenest City works with the Parkdale community “to create innovative projects that promote health, support community action, and enhance social and environmental justice in Toronto.” One of the programs of GC is the HOPE Community Garden, in which The Dale has a plot. We’ve had a long connection with GC, particularly with its current Executive Director, and it’s been great getting to see her and the rest of the kind and dedicated staff on a more regular basis.

PNLT is “a community land trust in Parkdale led by a group of residents and organizations trying to protect the social, cultural and economic diversity of Parkdale by redefining how land is used and developed.” As the neighbourhood gentrifies and becomes less affordable, PNLT seeks to ensure that no one is left behind, and that the community members have a say in how space is used. I’ve always had huge respect for this organization, and it’s been sweet sharing some time and space with a few of the fine folks doing this important work.

Flick the Switch is an artists’ collective, founded after a number of artists were evicted from studios in an old factory. They are a vibrant, creative bunch, and have generously partnered with The Dale in a variety of ways.

Other organizations have come and gone from this building over the years, including Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS). These lawyers and law students engage in community organizing, law reform and advocacy. They provide legal advice and representation on a variety of matters including housing rights, which is especially important as Parkdale gentrifies and evictions happen all too frequently. Ironically and tragically, they themselves were evicted from the building they had rented for many years, and found a temporary home in a portion of the basement of 201 Cowan while they searched for a more suitable space.

If this blog seems like one long plug for a bunch of organizations… that’s because it is 🙂 I want to share my gratitude for people doing good work in Parkdale, and these are just the folks who are/have been under this one particular roof! I could go on about PARC, St. Francis Table, PQWCHC, Parkdale People’s Economy (whose acronym is a little too confusing to use these days!), Sistering, Bonar Parkdale Presbyterian, Community Fridges Toronto, the Parkdale Community Food Bank, the Salvation Army Thrift Store, and others, but I won’t…today.

In the midst of this hurting, mixed up world, there is a lot of good. Thank you to everyone mentioned above, and everyone else too ❤

An office of our own

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During the eight and half years that I have worked at The Dale, we have operated without our own walls. All of our programming, and all of our admin work, has taken place in a huge variety of spaces. This is been pretty amazing, and pretty complex.

When I first started at The Dale, Erinn did her admin work by “hot-desking” (using whatever desk was available) at Sketch, an arts-based youth program whose office was in Parkdale at the time. Or she would set up shop in her local library, or work from home. She carried her office in a bag, complete with a tiny stapler and a compact scanner. I had less admin work to do, so I mainly just worked on fundraising from my couch.

We held our two-person staff meetings wherever we could; sometimes at a local coffee shop, sometimes in an emergency room, sometimes in the back of a cab on our way to a funeral. As we grew, we eventually settled on The Rustic Cosmo, a Parkdale cafe, as our Tuesday morning staff meeting spot.

A number of years ago we felt the need for a space to gather later in the week, to provide a structured place and time to chip away at each of our individual bits of admin work and fundraising. Our friend Wendell, the pastor at First Baptist, generously offered us the use of the church’s downstairs kitchen, complete with wifi and a coffeemaker (ie. the essentials), and so that became our Wednesday morning workspace. Any admin that happened during other times in the week happened from our own homes.

When COVID hit, all of our weekly drop-in and meeting spaces closed, except for one: Epiphany and St. Mark’s Anglican (ESM). Last week marked one year since this little church at 201 Cowan Ave became our COVID headquarters. For the majority of the past year we have run outdoor drop-ins and outreach out of this space, conducted our staff meetings over WhatsApp, and done admin from home. But about a month ago we received keys to what is now our very own office (at least for now), as part of our rental agreement with ESM!

Right now I’m sitting with Meagan in our cute little office that we’ve furnished and decorated to be homey and yet conducive to desk work. We have the essentials (again, wifi and a coffeemaker), plus a four person desk, two comfy armchairs, a chalkboard wall, a warm-toned area rug, framed photos of the lake taken by a community member, good lighting, the first of (inevitably) many plants, and… a printer!! Whoa.

I’m still a little in shock that this space is ours. The church has plans to do major renovations down the road, but for now its here for us to use for meetings, a bit of storage, and to help those of us who struggle with self-motivation (ie. me) to work away on our laptops in companionable quiet. We will continue to be a church that is present throughout the neighbourhood, doing outreach with Morrison (our van) and on foot. Once COVID is over, we hope to re-commence using multiple locations around Parkdale. AND it feels so nice to have a little bit of space to call our own for a while.

Thank you for being on this journey with me, and with The Dale! I can’t wait until COVID subsides and I can invite you to our office for a coffee 🙂

Boots!

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Last Sunday was a bit of a magical day.

The Dale held its first ever Boot Fitting Clinic, thanks to some amazing folks from The Meeting House with whom we’ve been in relationship for many years. These folks raised money, purchased over forty pairs of winter boots, delivered them to The Dale, and then showed up on Sunday with a crew of volunteers, PPE, disinfectant, and foot-sizers (like you would find in an actual shoe store).

Together we set up three boot-fitting stations, with two Meeting House folks at each station. One would welcome the next person in line to come and sit down to have their foot sized, and the other would run back and forth to the tables full of boots until the right fit was found.

All that Erinn, Olivia, Meagan and I needed to do was manage the line up (ie. chit chat with our friends, while offering other winter items like hats, mitts, and socks.) The line looked pretty long, and we were a little concerned that people would get impatient or that there wouldn’t be enough boots to go around. However, as the sunny afternoon progressed, we noticed the following astonishing facts:

The line up moved slowly. But the reason for the slow pace was that every person was treated by the Meeting House volunteers with utmost respect and dignity, and were not rushed into accepting boots if they weren’t the right fit. People in line could see this, and it was evident that when their turn came along they would be treated in the same manner. As a result, the line up was chill and even jovial.

People walked away with boots that were the right size for their feet. There were three or four people for whom the available boots didn’t work (so their size, name and contact info was taken, so that we could get boots from them in the coming weeks.) The vast majority of the time, however, the boots that had been purchased were the size that people needed. As the line shortened and the supply of boots dwindled, boot sizes continued to align with foot sizes. Eventually there were only two pairs of women’s boots left, and there were two more women in line. And they were a perfect match.

By the time it was all said and done, there was only one pair of boots left (which we were able to give away on Monday). The Dale staff and the Meeting House folks looked at each other in delight and incredulity. It worked…REALLY well!

I don’t understand exactly how God works, and why things sometimes (often) just don’t work out, even when you pray and have faith and do your best. I don’t know why life is so hard for so many people, so much of the time. But when things like this Boot Fitting Clinic happen, I am thrilled and amazed and grateful for what I believe is the loving hand of God at work in the world.

So, there you have it. A bit of a boot miracle. 🙂

Love Letter

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I feel a little cheesy posting this on Valentine’s Day, but I was recently reminded that St. Valentine was executed for his staunch belief in the importance of covenant love, and that no matter our relationship status we are all invited into a covenant relationship with Love. So, here’s a little letter that I wrote on February 14, 2020.

Love (always with a capital L),

Thank you that were/are so loving and tender, and loving and just. You cared deeply, and took no shit. I love that you cuddled kids and called oppressive leaders bad names.

I love that you prayed for us, all the people who would hear about you through your disciples. I love that you prayed for unity and deep connection to each other and to you, knowing that those would be the things we would struggle with the most.

I love that you loved being alone, and being outside. I love that you were subversive. I love that you cared for your friends well, according to their needs (ie. you spoke very directly to Peter, and let John be up close and personal.)

I love that you served in humility, and allowed/received service from others. I love that you loved the people most openly who had been told their whole lives that they deserved love the least.

I love that you were there at the dawn of creation, and saw the sun rise and set through mortal human eyes (and got sand in those eyes, rubbed those eyes when you got sleepy, and cried real tears of sorrow from those eyes/tear ducts.)

I love that you are. Thank you for loving me; for being the source, example, fulfilment and deep mystery of Love.

I love that you love all your people just as much as you love me. May your love be known in the hearts of those who really ache today.

Love,

Joey

From Rob to you

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Today, being Thursday, is “Brunch-in-a Bag day” at The Dale. People line up, a community volunteer stands behind a table (to ensure physical distancing), and a bag with an egg and bacon sandwich, fruit, yogurt, juice and a muffin passes from one set of hands to another.

Erinn, Meg, Olivia and I spread ourselves out along the line, so that we can maximize the time that we have to chat with our community. People sometimes linger after they receive their brunch, to chat a little more. When this happens, we make sure that we are not clumping into groups of more than five, and that we maintain distance. It’s an imperfect system (given that we would much rather sit down at a table with our friends, eat brunch together, laugh and chat with abandon, and part ways with a hug), but we are so grateful that at least we get to see some of our friends in person.

This morning our friend Rob (named used with his permission) rolled up in his motorized wheelchair. He received some food and other essentials, but it was clear that he mostly wanted to talk. So we stepped/rolled away from the line-up, and chatted. Rob has been through a lot in his life, and has recently experienced a deep loss. We chatted about grief for a bit, but then he started sharing some of his other thoughts about life with me.

He had a lot of good things to say, but one statement really stuck out to me. He said that he used to think “I don’t have it. I want it.” But now he thinks “I don’t have it. Do I need it?”

I said, “Wow Rob, can you imagine if the whole world thought that way?!” What a world that would be.

What a gift to receive this kind of simply-stated wisdom, outside on a Thursday morning. I asked him if I could pass the gift forward by sharing that perspective shift with you all, and he said “of course!” So, there you have it, from Rob to you.

Advent Joy in 2020? Part 2

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However, we know that joy isn’t simply the enjoyment of good things, experiences or feelings. In my struggle to articulate the essence of joy, I keep coming back to an essay by poet and community gardener Ross Gay, called “”Joy is such a human madness”: The duff between us.” I’d like to share it with you (I tried to pick out a few lines and just couldn’t.)

“…In healthy forests, which we might imagine to exist mostly above ground, and be wrong in our imagining, given as the bulk of the tree, the roots, are reaching through the earth below, there exists a constant communication between those roots and mycelium, where often the ill or weak or stressed are supported by the strong and surplused.

By which I mean a tree over there needs nitrogen, and a nearby tree has extra, so the hyphae (so close to hyphen, the handshake of the punctuation world), the fungal ambulances, ferry it over. Constantly. This tree to that. That to this. And that in a tablespoon of rich fungal duff (a delight: the phrase fungal duff, meaning a healthy forest soil, swirling with the living the dead make) are miles and miles of hyphae, handshakes, who get a little sugar for their work. The pronoun who turned the mushrooms into people, yes it did. Evolved the people into mushrooms.

Because in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it has occurred to me that among other things — the trees and mushrooms have shown me this — joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our life and the lives of everyone and thing we love going away. If we sink a spoon into that fact, we will find it teeming. It will look like all the books ever written. It will look like all the nerves in a body. We might call it sorrow, but we might call it a union, one that, once we notice it, once we bring it into the light, might become flower and food. Might be joy.” *

To me, this means that there is joy to be found in the common human experience of being mortal and vulnerable. Joy in knowing that we are not independent, and simultaneously, that we are not alone. As I think about Mary, and who she carried in her womb, it occurs to me that one of the greatest gifts that came with the birth of Jesus was that He shared in our vulnerability. He now knows first hand what it means to be dependent and needy. Because Emmanuel (“God with us”) shared in our vulnerability, we have the joy of knowing that we truly are not alone.

The loneliness and vulnerability that have accompanied COVID seem to have come as a shock to many people; those of us who are materially well-resourced are not always used to acknowledging our vulnerability and dependence on others. Many of my friends in Parkdale, however, have know these truths for a long time. They are my teachers in the joy of interdependence, mutual support, raw and honest prayers, and knowing that it’s okay to not be okay.

I feel like these this two part blog has been a bit rambly, so thanks for sticking with me. Advent Joy in the midst of a pandemic. It’s complex, but it’s real and good. I pray for that Joy for you this week.

* Gay, R. (2019) The Book of Delights. Thomas Allen & Son Limited.

Advent Joy in 2020? Part 1

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I can hardly believe that today is already the third Sunday of Advent. Typically, The Dale would have gathered today, like many other congregations, and lit a candle to symbolize Joy (having lit the Hope and Peace candles over the last two weeks.) Of course, things look different this year, but as a community The Dale has still been practising Advent together… but apart.

In late November we distributed Advent packages containing five candles of the traditional Advent colours (three purple, one red, one white), a devotional book with pages to colour for each week, some pencil crayons, a little box of matches, and a pencil sharpener. It has been lovely knowing that we are each lighting the same colour of candle each week, reading the same Scripture, prayer and song, and perhaps colouring in the same design (created by my sister!).

I’ve been thinking a lot about Joy this weekend, and what Advent Joy could possibly mean in 2020. As we all know, it been a year. The first three months had their own set of challenges, including a concerning viral outbreak in China… but then March came and COVID turned the whole world upside down. As a wise and poetic friend (Amanda Jagt) pointed out this week, these past nine months have given birth to so many things. They have birthed incredible sorrow and hardship, and they have also birthed some much needed change (or at least the beginnings of some changes).

At The Dale, these nine months have been full of challenge and change, and also surprising joys.

We have developed relationships with people we might not have otherwise, simply because they saw the line up for meals on Mondays and Thursdays.

We have developed new partnerships with organizations and individuals who have been incredibly generous to our little community, including one group that donated our outreach van (!).

We have been able to do more street outreach than ever, and have shared sweet and poignant moments with friends both new and old. One of my favourite new “traditions” that has developed since COVID is that every time we come across a particular friend walking down the street (this friend is quite elderly, uses a cane, and is a man of very few words), we both stop in our tracks and do a few dance moves, then carry on.

There is joy, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Continued in next blog…

Steadfast

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I just realized that it’s been nearly two months since I have written anything here. I think the reason for this silence is that these past couple of months have been full of so much change that I’ve had a hard time keeping up with my own thoughts and feelings, let alone write about them. But today I will try 🙂

One big change in my home life is that my sister Martha, who lived in Thunder Bay for many years, and Calgary before that, has become my newest housemate! Martha decided to move closer to family during COVID at exactly the same time as a room became available in my place… so we managed to decrease the distance between us from 1600km to a few meters! While it’s been a huge adjustment, and some tears were definitely shed during the first week, we’re settling into a really nice rhythm. I am always grateful for family, but especially now, in these strange and uncertain times.

There have also been a number of changes at The Dale. Olivia was away for a month, during which time she married Grant! We are so happy for them both, and are glad to have her back with us. While she was away, Meagan returned from her maternity leave. It’s so great to have her back with us, too. Shortly after her return, Pete’s contract came to an end. We miss him, and are praying for him and his family as they enter their next chapter.

And, of course, the landscape of the world continues to change, politically and pandemically (that’s now a word, I’ve just decided). What a wild time.

If you know me, you know that I love the music of Josh Garrels. Near the beginning of the pandemic he recorded an album from a shed in his back yard, in virtual collaboration with other musicians. I’ve been listening to it a lot, especially a song called Steadfast. Here’s a link, in case you want to have a listen. I am thankful that in the midst of change, the One who holds it all is steadfast.