This year marks ten years of The Dale. A decade. I can hardly believe it.
Rooted in a history much longer, The Dale grew up and out of what was Parkdale Neighbourhood Church (PNC), formerly Parkdale Baptist Church. Many people contributed to that chapter of life in Parkdale, and it is to be honoured. Similarly, I want to honour this most recent chapter and the journey it has and continues to be. We are excitedly planning ways to celebrate this milestone over 2022.
In 2012 we faced a decision: close or reimagine ourselves. At the time, I was invited into the role of Executive Director and Pastor. I felt a deep sense of call to say yes, though I was admittedly terrified. As the sole staff member, I was tasked with coming up with a plan. I believed the way to formulate a way forward first required listening. I met with community members. I had coffee with people doing neighbourhood work. I knocked on the doors of organizations, businesses, and churches both in Parkdale and around the city. I walked the area incessantly. It was out of all these interactions and a LOT of prayer that a plan to re-boot was birthed.
I recently re-read, through tears, my proposal to the Board. Here is a taste of it:
Informed by the community, I propose:
That PNC close all operations, excluding the Monday Drop-In and Street Outreach. We do not want this community to feel abandoned. The Drop-In is our single largest program. We can seek out a location, i.e. Epiphany and St. Mark or Bonar Presbyterian that might allow us to use space for free, one day a week. In addition to this, we can develop teams of people to be present on the street.
That we pare down our expenses to food for Mondays, a negotiated salary (that I will fundraise) for myself and a fund to allow me to take potential supporters and community members out for coffee, etc. While an office in the neighbourhood would be helpful, I can envision working on my laptop in the Parkdale library and from home. I will commit to remaining very visible in the neighbourhood. I will also commit to develop a fundraising model.
That my time be primarily used to create a working group of current community members to revision and strategize for the future, including a possible name change and rebranding (i.e. logo, website, etc.); to get ourselves organized administratively, including incorporation and further development of the Board; to meet with potential funders; to research possible partnerships with other organizations and encourage our current partners to stay the course with us; to seek out a new space in the neighbourhood; and to effectively communicate with our current network of supporters (financial and otherwise) through personal visits and newsletters.
That we plan for this process to take up to a year. However, we can establish “markers” that we will need to meet at certain intervals throughout the year. If it becomes evident that this process is not working, we can re-evaluate and begin the process of closing down.
I truly believe this is an opportunity to build upon the exciting work that has long existed at PNC. We have deep roots. We have a beautiful, resilient community. We have endured much. We can rise up. Consider these words from an Advent reading that I have repeatedly returned to:
“Think of the seed. We commit it to the darkness. And a new plant emerges thanks to what O’Donohue calls ‘the ancient symmetry of growth: root further into darkness and rise towards the sun. A life that wishes to honour its own possibility has to learn too how to integrate the suffering of dark and bleak times into a dignity of presence. Letting go of old forms of life, a tree practices hospitality towards new forms. It balances perennial energies of winter and spring within its own living bark. The tree can reach towards the light, endure wind, rain and storm, precisely because it is rooted.”
Whew! And now here we are! I can confidently say that the last ten years have been evidence to me of God’s grace and provision. This work is built on that, along with the participation of so many people. To the Board who took a chance and dared to dream, to the staff team who heard the call to come, to every partner, volunteer, and supporter who said yes, to the core community who showed us how to shed our walls and be church around the neighbourhood, to my family who understood my fear and supported me to still take the risk: thank you. Together we have witnessed a phoenix rising out of the ashes. As soon as we can, let’s have a party.