It’s a Sunday at The Dale. The first thing we do is get the “nave” ready, otherwise known as the sanctuary, for our gathering at 2 pm. Songbooks are placed in every other row. A small wooden table is positioned at the front, on which we put two plates: one with bread and one with little plastic cups containing grape juice. There is a candle too. A community member routinely trims the wick and shaves down the sides, a skill learned earlier in life and now part of their Sunday role. A basket on a stand is placed to the left side of the table for our offering.
There is a beautiful grand piano that I get to play during the service. Behind me is a community member who plays the guitar (he likes to call it his “godtar”), usually with an amp precariously placed on a stool. This friend prefers to do the intros and likes to wail throughout. We invite people to choose songs at various points in the service. We usually start with at least three, because folks LOVE to sing at The Dale.
We mean it when we say, “come as you are”, and so everyone arrives with a variety of things going on. Sometimes this is especially messy. It can mean having hard conversations in the foyer, or dealing with a conflict, or simply listening because someone is desperately sad, or leading a person to a spot where they can begin to sober up. Sometimes I am the one who feels overwhelmed with life, which is true on this day.
Given all of this, we choose to start our time together in silence each week. Though the space is not always entirely quiet, the point is to begin the work of settling our own hearts and minds and re-adjusting our gaze. Then we sing, we offer one another peace (which is helpful on those days we aren’t feeling very peaceful), we are given opportunity to share what we are grateful for or are struggling with, we pray, we listen, we offer gifts (everything from money to coupons to mittens to little notes that say, “I will give a smile to everyone I see this week” or “I will help hand out the meals on Monday”), and we share communion. On this day a disagreement occurs between two people but is rectified during the prayer time with astonishing transparency and repentance.
Today we considered the parable of the Prodigal Son. Which son do we identify with? The one who left? Or the one who stayed? We think about how we sometimes do unhealthy things that we need to stop doing, and also how we are invited to turn away from the failures, guilt, or regrets that bind us to the past, the sorrows and losses that keep us from being fully alive, or the fears that control our lives and keep our world small. We are invited into the warm embrace of God, whether we are the brother we went away, or the one who stayed.
There is a strong rhythm to our time on Sundays, though each week is unique. We are co-creating something special: a place that is as safe-ish as possible, and where room is made for the sacred, all are welcome, and voices too often marginalized are centred. I am often moved to tears when I look around at our beautiful motley crew. They know how to keep it real and push me to do the same. For that, and our shared journey, I am deeply grateful.