I realized this week that it’s been ten years since I was first introduced to the idea of friendship-based street ministry. A whole decade! This was really brought home to me yesterday, when my friend Ben came to visit The Dale. He and I met each other on a trip to Halifax, ten summers ago. In fact, it was Ben who invited me to a place called “The Fish Coffeehouse” in downtown Halifax, where I first experienced the joy of friendship-based street ministry.
Ben had spent time in Halifax before and had been to The Fish: a spot for folks who were street involved to come in, have a cup of coffee, chat, and play board games if they felt so inclined. When he invited me to try it out, I was hesitant. And the first time I went I kept feeling like I should be “doing something useful”; I was coming from the worldview that people like me should be serving and giving to people who had less than I did. At The Fish I began to learn that simply being with people was “doing something useful”, and that while I may have had more social privilege than folks walking in off the street, I did not necessarily have more to give. Most of these folks were light-years ahead of me in terms of wisdom, humour, authenticity, faith and strength.
While the trip that Ben and I were part of was not focused on this style of ministry, it quickly became clear to me that spending time with people who were marginalized was the thing that made my soul sing, and the thing that Jesus tended to do (something that hadn’t really occurred to me until then). I began chatting with people who were panhandling along Spring Garden Road, the main drag in Halifax. I continued going to The Fish, and also attended a Sunday night supper at a Presbyterian Church. By the time I returned home to Ontario in August of 2008, I knew that my life would need to include time spent on the street.
Fast forward ten years, and here I am in Parkdale, introducing Ben to Dale folks who I’ve grown to love dearly over the past 6ish years. It was such a joy to show to have him at our drop-in, and see members of the community welcome him in. It was also a joy take him on a tour around the neighbourhood, bumping into Dale folks all along Queen Street. I showed him all the places we hold drop-ins, our community garden plot, and my favourite falafel spot. One Dale friend joined us for at least half of this tour, giving insights into the neighbourhood and bits of her own story.
The lessons that I began to learn at The Fish ring truer every day: just being with people is doing something useful. And while I have good gifts to give, I also have much to learn and receive.
The Fish. I’m in the background chatting on the couch.