I realize that I sort of dove into this blog to let you know about the loss of my job at Alternative Grounds, and to invite you to join me on this new stage of the journey as I figure out what’s next. So I thought that it might be a good idea to backtrack a bit and explain more about the journey that brought me to The Dale in the first place, and give a general overview of what we do at The Dale. So here we go!
[This turned out to be way longer than I originally intended, so I’ve made the really crucial bits bold, so you can just skim through and read them if you want!]
I was introduced to street level ministry in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the summer of 2008. I was spending a summer there, on a missions trip that was unrelated to the street, but was invited to a coffeehouse called The Fish, where folks who are street involved are welcomed into a cozy church parish hall to hang out, play games and drink coffee. I immediately fell in love with the place, and the way they welcomed people in. I became a regular at The Fish, attended another dinner program that someone told me about, and made friends with some of the folks who I saw panhandling downtown. I’ll never forget “Pops”, my first street-involved friend. He was so kind and gracious to me, despite my total ignorance of all things “street”!
It was in Halifax that God opened my eyes to the realities of poverty in Canada, to his heart for justice, mercy and compassion, and to his call on my life to friendship-based street level ministry.
Back in Kingston, I completed my undergrad in Biology and Health Studies, and started hanging out at Martha’s Table, a lovely spot where delicious meals are served for a dollar. I read Greg Paul’s books (God in the Alley and The Twenty Piece Shuffle), and became even more convinced that street ministry based on mutually-beneficial friendships was for me! I loved the idea of simply hanging out with people on the margins, like Jesus did, learning to see him in their brokenness, learning to see my own own brokenness, and allowing these new friends to minister to me. Knowing that a community like Sanctuary existed was a huge encouragement to me!
While I felt called to street ministry, I still knew pretty much nothing about the poverty in my own backyard. I decided to take a year after I graduated to learn more, and was given the opportunity to be a “social justice and compassion intern” at Bethel, my church in Kingston. That year I asked a lot of questions of a lot of people (social activists, people on the street, social service workers, etc), continued to build friendships at Martha’s Table and on the street, joined social justice groups, and helped with an after school program, among other things, and shared what I learned with the Bethel community, via a small group, the youth group, a kids day camp, and a few Sunday morning spiels. It was a huge year of growth for me!
During that year I went to a “Why Everything Must Change” conference at the Meeting House in Oakville. While I was there, I met some folks from Wycliffe who were recruiting for a new program; a Masters of Theological Studies in International and Urban Development (or MTSD for short!). I was intrigued, and when I found out that I could intern at Sanctuary as part of the program I was basically sold!
So in the fall of 2010 I said a lot of teary farewells to my beloved friends and communities in Kingston, and set out for the Big City! My two years at Wycliffe were rich in learning in SO many ways (it would take a whole other blog to write about it!), but the richest learning took place at Sanctuary and on the street. I started attending church at Sanctuary in September 2010, and interned there the following summer.
God confirmed my sense of call in a huge way during my time as an intern at Sanctuary. I learned SO much from the staff and community; how to engage in street outreach in a respectful and dignity-promoting way, how to co-facilitate a safe and welcoming drop-in with the community, how to collaboratively start a community garden (okay, we sort of flew by the seat of our pants for that one!), how to process the traumatic experiences that happen at street level (that’s an on-going lesson…), and how to give and receive care. The most beautiful moments of that summer happened when I was struggling with something, and a member of the community would provide just the right word of encouragement or advice, or a hug.
As I was winding up my time at Wycliffe, a friend suggested that I should meet Erinn Oxford at Parkdale Neighbourhood Church, a community with a very similar philosophy to Sanctuary. He thought that Erinn and I would hit it off… and he was RIGHT! As I talked to Erinn about the community that she was leading in Parkdale (as the only staff member), it became clear to me how much she loved this place, and how much I had to learn from her. It also seemed to me that perhaps she could use a buddy! She told me that, due to a decrease in funding, the community would soon be leaving the space that they had rented for many years, she had begun raising her own salary, and that any additional staff would also need to raise their salary. We kept talking over the the summer, and when the Board of Directors gave the green light, I started raising support, found a job at Alternative Grounds, and joined Erinn on staff in September 2012!
Soooo, here we are!
Over the past 16 months, the community at the Dale has embraced the fact that we no longer have a building, and instead have “spilled out to the street” as Erinn likes to say. We have developed partnerships with a wide variety of organizations in the Parkdale neighbourhood, and the community is not just surviving, but thriving! It has been such a privilege to join this community in the process of re-imaging how to be a church without its own walls.
Here is what a typical week at the Dale looks like:
Sunday– 2pm Worship service at 201 Cowan, in space made available by the Jeremiah Community
Monday– 10am-3pm Lunch drop-in at 250 Dunn Ave, in Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church
Tuesday– 1-3pm Coffee and conversation drop-in at 1447 Queen St West, in the Salvation Army Thrift Store
– 7pm- Bible Study at 1402 Queen St. West, in Coffee Time
Wednesday– 10am-noon Art drop-in at 1229 Queen St. West, in the Parkdale Community Health Center
– 8pm Street Outreach, meeting at 201 Cowan
Erinn and I also engage in pastoral care in hospitals, jail, court rooms, bus stations (wherever our folks happen to be).
In following blogs I’ll tell you more about life at the Dale, but for now I’m going to sign off!
Peace be yours!