Advent Joy in 2020? Part 2

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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.

Nimble Nomads with a Schedule

Standard

Yesterday I had the chance to describe The Dale to someone who had very little context for who we are. It was good for me to recap our history, our philosophy, and the unique way that we have chosen to exist in our neighbourhood as “nomads with a schedule.”

Early in this pandemic we needed to pare down our schedule and centralize our space usage. For the past six months we have primarily been operating from one location, along with our street outreach walks. This has honestly felt a little strange. Convenient, but strange!

So much of the Dale’s identity, in my mind, is connected with our ability to move easily from place to place; being together and being church wherever we are. In a word (which Erinn used this week and really stuck with me), we are nimble.

As COVID wears on, we find ourselves re-assessing the needs of the community, and the role that The Dale might play in the neighbourhood in these strange days. While we can’t be nomadic in the same way that we were before (using multiple indoor spaces), we are hatching plans about how to exercise our nimble-ness in this new reality.

Stay tuned 🙂

For Carol

Standard

A dear family friend passed away suddenly this week. Her name was Carol Fuller, and she was an absolute gem of a human being.

Carol has been part of my family’s life for over thirty years. She and my dad were the first ever pair of teachers to share a classroom in the Limestone District school board. They were both committed to teaching AND to raising their own kids, so they worked hard to convince the school board to let them co-teach a class so that they could both work part time.

Carol was an amazing teacher, and a great mom. Between the Fullers and the Moons there were 4 girls within 6 years, so we spent a lot of our time together when we were little. I still have vivid memories of their home, with it’s creaky, grooved-over-time wooden stairs, persian rugs and cozy vibes. (I guess the reason I mostly remember the flooring is that I was mostly crawling at the time!)

One of the most amazing gifts that the Fuller family offers the world is their unprecedented hospitality. Back in Grade 7 or 8, a couple of friends and I attended a science camp at Queens (we were obviously very cool). The Fullers put us up in their genuinely cool eldest daughter’s downstairs “suite” (thanks Heather!). I don’t remember much from the camp, but I remember the fun we had at the Fullers, and how at home they made us feel.

When my sister Martha and I grew up and came back to Kingston to attend Queens, we would sometimes dog-sit when Carol and her husband Ken (another gem of a human) were out of town. We weren’t allowed the lock the door though, because they never knew when a friend would be passing through town and need a place to stay! They also wanted (urged) us to have all our friends over, use their hot tub, play their piano, light their fireplace, and generally make ourselves at home. When they were home they would host me and/or Martha for dinner, and listened to our angsty exam-time woes.

The summer after I graduated from Queens, I lived with the Fullers in a room that had been vacated by their other genuinely cool daughter (thanks Cat!). It was a special summer, being part of their everyday lives. I learned that Carol was very eco-conscious (before that was trendy), learned exactly how she liked her tea, and gained a greater appreciation for the struggle that is Multiple Sclerosis. Carol lived with MS for close to 40 years, and I realized how remarkable it was that she managed to live life so fully and gracefully despite the massive changes that it had forced her to make.

A few years ago a situation arose for a Dale community member that urgently required him to go to Kingston to visit his son in hospital. While The Dale was able to get a train ticket for him online, we didn’t know how to get him from the station to the hospital. So I phoned up the Fullers, and they got him where he needed to go. Neither Carol nor Ken were even *close* to fazed by this request.

I still can’t quite believe that Carol is gone. She was such a tiny person, who was also larger that life. Ken, Catherine, Heather… I’m so sorry. You’re in my heart all the time these days. Sending you so much love.

Being “Dale-ish” during a pandemic

Standard

It has become increasingly clear, over the past few months, that building community in a pandemic is… hard! We, as a staff team, are SO thankful that we’ve been able to continue working together in Parkdale, seeing our folks and meeting practical needs. AND, it’s really difficult that we haven’t been able to sit down and eat together as a community, welcome people into full participation through volunteering of time and talents, have long discussions or times of prayer and worship, and the other things that make The Dale feel “Dale-ish”.

That being said, we have found many creative ways to remain connected to the community as best we can; we do lots of street outreach, we have a list of people with whom we regularly speak on the phone, we published a devotional and distributed it to people in the community who liked the idea of reading/praying/reflecting through the same material at the same time (though separately), and we found a way to safely hold an outdoor memorial for our friend Jahn. I am so grateful for all these ways we have found to be “Dale-ish”.

However, over these past few months we have seen a significant number of new faces in the lines up for to-go meals, and have realized that many of these folks have no context for The Dale beyond these line-ups. I recently had the chance to explain who we “really are” to a newcomer, and she was surprised and delighted that we usually sit down and eat together, and that she would have been welcome to volunteer if she wanted to (and that she will be in the future, once COVID dies down!)

This all motivated us to put together a little “Intro to the Dale” handout, to go along with our August/September calendar. I’ve included it below.

As we have entered Stage Three and can have larger outdoor gatherings, we hope to have more and more “Dale-ish” times together 🙂

__________________________________________________________________________________

If you’re new to The Dale:

Welcome! We’re so glad that you have found us! We want to properly introduce ourselves, and explain a bit about The Dale’s core values, which include:

Creating awareness 

Breaking down barriers 

Fostering friendships 

Practicing presence 

Nurturing faith

The Dale is a nomadic community organization and church. We do not own a building of our own, but borrow spaces around the neighbourhood. We welcome all people and make intentional space for those who might more often be found in the margins.

During non-COVID times our schedule looks like this: 

On Mondays we are at Bonar Parkdale Presbyterian Church (250 Dunn Ave) for a sit-down lunch. We encourage community participation in all aspects of the day, from meal prep, to delivering platters of food to each table, to dishwashing, to playing music. 

On Thursday mornings we are at the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center (1229 Queen St. West) for a sit-down brunch and self-directed art drop-in where people can participate in meal prep, clean up, art and music-making.

On Tuesday afternoons we are in the back corner of the Salvation Army Thrift Store (1447 Queen St. West) for a conversational drop-in with snacks and board games, on Tuesday evenings at St. Francis Table (1322 Queen St. West) for a Bible Study, and Sunday afternoons at Epiphany and St. Marks (201 Cowan Ave) for a church service. 

Of course, things have looked very different for the past few months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For everyone’s health and safety, we have not been able to have many community volunteers, sit and eat together, or hold our usual programming. This has been really sad and hard, but we are also very grateful that we have been able to see each other face to face around the neighbourhood and on Mondays and Thursdays when meals are distributed.

We dearly hope that it will soon be safe to start operating in a way that better fits our values, but we know this may be a slow transition. 

We hope that this introduction to The Dale has been helpful, and that you will continue to be involved with The Dale even after COVID is over! If you want more information about this community, you can visit our website, thedale.org, or approach any of us with your questions!!

Peace be yours,

Erinn (Pastor and Director), Joanna (Community Worker), Pete (Community Worker), and Olivia (Community Worker)

 

 

 

 

(un)learning together

Standard

One of the (many) things that I love about the Dale community is that we are a pretty diverse bunch, in a whole variety of ways: in terms of our socioeconomic situations, our stances on theology, our expressions of gender and sexuality, the colours of our skin, our ages/stages of life, our degrees of ability/disability, etc.

As Erinn wrote in The Dale’s statement on anti-racism (which you can read in italics below), we are committed to learning from each other, and lamenting alongside those who are vulnerable because of where they land along the spectra I just listed. We are SO far from perfect, but we will keep on trying.

In the spirit of learning and lamenting in community, I’d like to share a video that was recently sent to me from a Dale community member. “Josh” is impish, clever, Indigenous, and usually sends me cat videos. So when he sent me a link, I was expecting feline antics or perhaps a dancing cockatoo. Instead, it was a ten minute summary of systemic racism in Canada, sharing the voices of Black and Indigenous professors and lawyers. It’s worth your time. Thank you Josh, for sharing this resource. Let’s keep (un)learning together.

 

 

 

With humility and deep conviction, The Dale strives to stand against the oppression of people. As a church and community organization we do this by:

Inviting all people into full participation of our community and in so doing, elevating voices that are otherwise marginalized.

Working to create spaces that are as safe as possible by intervening when they are not, challenging and stopping harmful behaviour, and committing to a reconciliatory process.

Building relationships with people and understanding one another’s histories, experiences, and hopes.

Affirming that every person is built to both give and receive.

We are committed to listening to, learning from, and lamenting with people who are made vulnerable due to race, class, age, economics, gender, sexuality, and disability, etc.

The Dale seeks to be anti-racist. We have and will continue to make mistakes, and are sorry for the times we have failed to take actionable steps against racism. We believe that Black Lives are TRULY Beloved.

the offering hat

Standard

One of the things that I miss the most about “regular” life at the Dale (ie. pre-COVID), is the part of our Sunday service just before we pass around the offering hat. Erinn (or whichever of us is leading the service that day) always makes sure to explain that we all have good gifts to give, and that these gifts look very different from each other.

You might have a financial gift to put in the hat, a note of encouragement, or something else tangible (sometimes we get a pack of pencil crayons, a coupon, or a cigarette). Or maybe your gift is something else, like doing dishes at drop-in, or praying for the community, or giving good hugs (remember hugs??!!). If your gift is something like that, you are welcomed to hold the hat and offer your intention to God in prayer.

These days, of course, things look different. We aren’t able to meet for our Sunday services, and we don’t get to pass around our offering hat. Folks who would normally volunteer in the kitchen, play music during drop-ins or church, give hugs, etc, are unable to do so. However, the community continues to find ways to offer their gifts, in lots of different ways.

A couple of weeks ago someone came up to Erinn and said, “I don’t have money, but I want you to have this…”, handing her a $40 Tim Horton’s gift card that this friend had been given for their 74th birthday.

Today Pete went to drop off a bagged lunch to a beloved community member, and was given a bag containing homemade banana bread for the staff team to share.

Also today, one community member donated a bag of books, and another donated a few pieces of art.

So, although we can’t pass around our offering hat, the giftedness and generosity of this Dale community continues to shine.

 

In praise of shelter and housing workers

Standard

If you’ve had your ear to the ground lately, surrounding issues of homelessness and housing in Toronto amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, you will likely have come across some strong opinions about the City’s response to these overlapping crises.

I’ve added my voice to the mix on social media, encouraging others to contact the mayor and city councillors to advocate for swift and appropriate action, especially when it seemed that encampments were going to be cleared before people living in them had received housing. I am also in support of the injunction being levied against the City, demanding that shelter standards be modified to adhere to necessary physical distancing guidelines, among other things.

I believe that when residents voice their concerns about social issues, it can make a difference. If enough public pressure is placed on people with decision-making power, things happen. So thank you to everyone who has been insisting that people who are homeless need to be safely housed, especially now.

The one thing that I lament about this type of advocacy (again, in which I firmly believe), is when shelter and housing workers get caught in the crossfire. I know and love many people who work tirelessly at city-funded shelters, as city-funded housing workers, and as city staff in the shelter and housing departments. These folks are amazing. They are doing the very best they can, with the resources that have been made available to them.

So let me be clear: when I refer to “the City” needing to do this or needing to do that, I am referring to the decision-makers who determine where resources will be allocated. I am not referring to the incredibly hard working folks at shelters, Streets to Homes, and the other agencies that are seeking to provide shelter to my friends. This is an important distinction, and one that I will be making more explicit in my future calls to advocacy.

So, thank you shelter and housing workers. I see you, and I appreciate the work that you are doing. We’re all in this together.

 

COVID gratitude journal

Standard

These are wild times. There’s no question about it. I know many of us are starting to fray at the edges, wondering how long this pandemic will last.

AND, it is also true that these are times of wild generosity. I’ve named many of The Dale’s amazing donors through social media, but I’d like to dedicate this blog post to the (ever-growing) group of individuals, groups and businesses that have given of their time and resources to help The Dale community through these strange and challenging times.

Epiphany and St. Mark’s Anglican Church and Greenest City have graciously allowed us the use of space in which to prepare meals and receive donations. Greenest City has also connected many of our folks with weekly Good Food Boxes (containing fresh produce.)

Capital Espresso has provided us with fresh bread, baked goods and coffee beans.

Nook Cafe, in partnership with Runnymede Presbyterian has prepared and delivered delicious lunches for our Monday meals.

New Moon Bakery has baked, individually wrapped, and donated five HUNDRED (!) organic cookies.

Cherry Bomb Coffee has donated croissants and a lot of milk and cream.

Natasha, a dear friend and regular volunteer at The Dale, picked up and delivered the New Moon and Cherry Bomb donations, and has organized a group of baking friends who provide us with a steady stream of goodies.

Patty,  another dear friend and volunteer, has sewn us a huge number of face masks, which we have been able to distribute to people in the community.

Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian has shared and delivered loads of buns and baguettes.

Second Harvest has continued to provide us with lots of amazing produce and pantry items, which we are able to distribute on Mondays along with lunch.

Ken, Christina, and James have all helped us divide the Second Harvest bounty into grocery bags, and James has also joined us on outreach and jumped into the kitchen to do food prep when we were short-staffed.

Brad, a dad whose child (in non-COVID times) attends the Scouts program at Epiphany and St. Mark’s, has been helping us distribute lunches on Mondays.

Ross and Sheila, friends from the Meeting House, have been delivering groceries and lunches to folks who have a hard time getting to us on Mondays. Sheila is also creating and selling COVID Commemorative earrings (tiny little toilet paper rolls on silver hoops!), and giving 100% of the proceeds to The Dale. If you’re interested, shoot me a message and I’ll connect you!

Cody, another Meeting House friend, has posted a list of needed items and a drop-off box in his neighbourhood, and has delivered bags and bags of donations every week to The Dale.

Gab and Roshan, more Meeting House friends who co-lead a House Church, have galvanized their group to provide support to The Dale in a variety of ways, including having us share our story during their weekly Zoom meeting 🙂

Melanie, a childhood friend of Erinn’s, has delivered a pickup-truck-load of produce from farms in the Holland Marsh area, along with a bunch of homemade hand sanitizer. Her daughters and their therapy-cat-in-training came along to help out too!

And an anonymous donor dropped off boxes and boxes of t-shirts, underwear, hats and bandanas; excess merchandise from his friend’s local screen printing business.

On top of this amazing list, many people have given financially — we are working on getting personal thank yous out to you too!

We are GRATEFUL.

20200423_173116