Retreat Time

I have written here about the camp my family and I spend a lot of time at in the summers. I have long dreamed of taking a group from PNC to Camp Koinonia and this past weekend it happened!

For many, the opportunity to leave the city doesn’t come by often. For one of my friends this was the FIRST time he had experienced the woods of Northern Ontario. Though he has been through much, including jail, he became childlike as we drove in the dark toward the camp. He kept asking if I really knew where we were going. What about animals? It’s too dark! Are we safe? Is this where they write ghost stories?

By the time we left at the end of the weekend this same man was telling me, in his broken English, that he felt “happy in his head”. He, once he got used to the dark, slept deeply. He kayaked. He ate well. He hung out with children, including my daughter. He played dominoes and sang camp songs and received communion. He even wrote this on the time line that we each added significant events to: “Erinn apcepted me work 2011 at PNC. That my 2nd home”.

This makes me weep.

Thank you to the many people who made this retreat possible. Thank you to Camp Koinonia for welcoming PNC. And thank you to the PNC community for gathering, eating, singing, hiking, fishing, playing, resting, remembering and celebrating together. I mean it when I say I am honoured and humbled to have received the call to lead PNC through serving you. To say I’m grateful is truly an understatement.

Let’s start planning the next retreat.

War Resister

Kimberly Rivera is my friend and one who came to refer to me as sister (and I her). She fled to Canada as a War Resister, or “Conscientious Objector” five years ago. Today she was separated from her husband and four children having been ordered deported. She will more than likely spend time in jail.

Tonight the tears are flowing.

My plan this afternoon was to attend the peaceful demonstration in support of Kim in downtown Toronto. Instead I found myself gathered with a small group in the yard of a school where Kim said goodbye. I crawled under a play structure where her eldest was hiding to tell him I loved him. He had on a home-made cape and looked every bit a 10-year-old. One sad, amazingly stoic boy.

Tonight I want to set aside the politics of this.

Instead I want to re-imagine the day when all will be made right in this world. The day when people will “hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.” (Isaiah). I want to cling to my faith that God’s kingdom is going to be fully ushered in and every tear will be dried.

Tonight I want to ask for peace. And mercy.

We are invited to be a people of forgiveness. The plank in my own eye is far bigger than the speck in yours. I want us to dare to choose a way that doesn’t involve picking up arms (using rifles or harsh words) to settle our disputes. I inwardly groan for something different.

Tonight I pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. (St. Francis)

Oh, my friends, pray for Kim and everyone close to her. And if you don’t pray, send healing thoughts. I know this situation incites strong feelings on all sides and is deeply complicated. Tonight though think of the woman whose longing is for peace, her husband, and the community she leaves behind.

Tonight think of the boy in the cape and his three siblings.

6 Months Later

*Please Note: This is a letter that I have been working on for a while. I am excited to share it here and plan to send it out in various forms- I invite you to do the same!

Just six months ago Parkdale Neighbourhood Church began a new adventure. Faced with a financial crisis we decided to begin the process of “reboot”. Today we have extinguished many of our expenses, most notably those associated with our living quarters: we gave notice at 201 Cowan Avenue and have effectively spilled out into the neighbourhood, relying on various partners to house our ongoing programming. There is a beautiful resiliency to this community. We have been through much and have so many reasons to celebrate and continue to hope.

Our Monday Drop-In now meets at Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church, located just one block from our previous home. Remarkably we are seeing our record of 120 people in the drop-in broken! Over the summer we held art workshops in the Masaryk Park, though with the cooling temperatures we are looking for an alternate location. I love sitting at a desk in the Sketch Administrative Office at 180 Sudbury Street and gathering on Sundays for a joint church service with The Jeremiah Community, our friends have so graciously welcomed me/us and offer constant support and encouragement. A street outreach team wanders the neighbourhood at various times during the week.

Though it is challenging to not have a space of our own, we are most certainly a community that exists outside of any single building. We are truly transitioning together while earning the “neighbourhood” in our name. We have made countless meals and pieces of art; sung songs and shared our needs; prayed and wept; packed boxes and cleaned floors; danced and laughed. We need one another.

Together we have nurtured PNC’s desire to be a place where those who are vulnerable and broken are deeply valued and all people are welcome. We invite people into full participation of the community, in the ways that they are able. For some, PNC is one of the few (if only) places they feel accepted and loved. When I asked my nine-year old daughter Cate to describe what it is that PNC does, she said simply “you let people in”. Yes, that is indeed what we do.

One of the people who has decided to “come in” is Joanna Moon. I am thrilled to announce that Joanna felt the call to PNC and has joined me on staff. She will be supporting our programming, building and caring for relationships and assisting me in rebuilding the structure of PNC. While I have felt far from alone, the weight of my responsibility as the sole staff has been heavy. I am grateful on so many levels to work with Joanna. She is my friend AND now colleague.

Mixed in with all these good things are continued challenges. An important part of what I need to do is find the funds for PNC, including my own salary. I am so grateful to the many people who are making it possible that I get paid for this work. The truth is, I still need help. This is not easy to talk about, however, I’m learning to. Please hear this as an invitation to invest in me and PNC with whatever resources you might have available to do so. One of the most helpful ways to give financially is through monthly giving (this is made easy online at CanadaHelps or through our Pre-Authorized Remittance system).

Of course investing in this work can look different for each person. Please consider becoming a part of the PNC story, either by checking out a Monday drop-in, joining us on street outreach, engaging in our worship on a Sunday afternoon, praying for us, encouraging us from afar or making a financial contribution. Good things are happening here; lives are being changed, including my own. For some this means making the choice to take a small step toward sobriety; or learning to believe they are loved; or choosing to get out of bed even though the depression is thick; or having the opportunity to not just receive, but to give.

PNC is one precious place. Please come on in.

Decoding the Doing

“So what is it exactly that you do?”

I have been asked this a lot lately in regard to PNC. It’s a fair question. You ready? Here goes…

PNC stands for Parkdale Neighbourhood Church. I am the Director and only staff (though that is about to change- stay tuned!). PNC exists to create a safe, welcoming space in which all people are welcome. We value people who are vulnerable and broken. Everyone is invited into full participation of the community to the best of their abilities and to journey toward a deeper experience of the life God has given us. Many members of our community are under-housed and unwaged. Substance addiction and mental health issues are common. If you are looking for a place that is real and very raw, than PNC is that.

While I hold responsibility as staff, am housed and waged, I really am no different than anybody else at PNC. I too am invited to share my own vulnerabilities and brokenness on the journey. PNC is a home that we are creating together.

An average week for me looks like this:

On Sunday afternoons I, along with some volunteers, receive our Second Harvest donation at our Drop-In location. We assess the food, put it away and plan the Monday meal accordingly.

We have a church service. Over the last number of months this has been done in partnership with our friends at the Jeremiah Community. Am I ever grateful to those folks.

On Monday mornings I buy any additional groceries we need and head to the Drop-In. There we set up the room and cook for what is often a group of at least 120 people.

I encourage people to create art, lately in the park, but hopefully soon in an indoor space.

I do administration (you name it, I do it).

I fundraise. I write grant applications. I meet potential donors.

I spend time outside on the streets, both during the day and one night a week.

I visit people in the hospital. I accompany people to detox.

I listen and offer pastoral care. I carefully work at telling people they are loved, regardless of what they do or don’t do. I humbly attempt to speak about love, mercy and justice. I build relationships.

The list doesn’t really end there, though I think this is a good place to stop. Because the truth is, the foundation of what I “do” is relationships. It is beautiful, messy, sometimes exhausting, occasionally painful, deeply good work.

Well, I hope my answer is clearer than mud.

This friends, is what I do.