The Cohesion of People

November 15th, otherwise known as Fundraiser day, was a blur of activity. Every once in a while I told myself (or Joanna reminded me) to slow down and take a look around the room, fulling ingesting what was happening.

I saw children: some just walking, some toddlers, some school aged dancing with the kind of abandon I wish we retained as adults. I saw my friend James, an artist and core member of the Dale selling cards adorned with his art so that he could give us a “cut” of the profits. Another friend, Norma was selling jewellery for the same reason. I saw people bobbing for apples, playing cards, throwing sponges at a target with a brave volunteer’s face as the bull’s-eye and tossing ping-pong balls into jars. I saw people dressing up at the photo booth and getting their faces painted.  I saw a table of beautiful pies for auction, some made by friends, others made by Wanda’s Pie in the Sky- a little shop in Kensington Market. I saw people enjoying bowls of chill and pieces of cornbread, those who eat with us on Mondays in the Drop-In and those who don’t. I saw people square dancing. I saw people reading about where the donations we receive actually go. I saw The Lovelocks take the stage. I saw so many different people doing whatever it took to make sure the event went smoothly.

As is true with any event, we will need to determine what worked and what we might do differently in the future. The time for that is coming. In the meantime, I want to celebrate all that was good. I have not forgotten that just a couple of years ago The Dale (then PNC) almost closed. We have been through a lot and come a long way. What kept bringing tears to my eyes throughout the 15th was the variety of people present and how you couldn’t tell who was who: The Dale community, Board members, supporters, volunteers, neighbours, friends and family. It has been this kind of cohesion, this kind of coming together that has brought The Dale to the present day. I do not take this for granted. Now I want to slow down, take a look around and imagine what’s next.


Building Community that Calls to Account

I grew up listening to CBC Radio. It was on much of the time in our house. When we’d go to our family camp [cottage] we’d position the rabbit ears on the little radio in the kitchen in order to hear Peter Gzowski’s voice. Turning the radio on makes me feel nostalgic and somehow “safe” as a result. In my own home we regularly listen to The Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean on Saturday mornings. I admittedly love that Cate knows Tom Power and Rich Terfry or, “Stir-Fry” as she likes to call him. Though I don’t know Jian Ghomeshi beyond his voice, he like Gzowski, felt like one of my CBC friends, which is why I’ve been somewhat glued to the news this past week.

I’ve read a lot of the commentary that has accompanied Ghomeshi’s firing, the initial public support, the multiple allegations of abuse, the mounting evidence against him and the extreme fallout since. The only thing that I am glad about is that this has ignited a conversation about changing rape culture, while being so sad that it took this.

Because of the nature of my work at The Dale and the faith that informs how I do it, I find myself wondering ‘what next’? What next for Ghomeshi? What next for the women he harmed? What next for the culture that for too long has turned a blind eye to sexual offences? What does restorative justice look like? I journey alongside people in Parkdale who have been either or in some cases both, offender and victim. There is nothing simple about answering the ‘what next’ question in situations that are this painful and complex.

I’m not sure how to answer the questions that have been stirred in me. I do know this has served to solidify my desire to live in community where we can call one another to account. I need people to tell me when I am messing up and help pull me back on to the right track. Of course, this isn’t a fail-safe plan. I can choose to go my own way even with people telling me I should do otherwise. My hope though is that by being surrounded by people choosing to love me (and I them) that I might avoid having to hit the proverbial bottom. Or, if I do go to the depths, that I will have people there to pick me up.

I find myself weeping for the women who have been wounded deeply; for those who have spoken out and for those who haven’t. I wonder where Ghomeshi has retreated to. How is his family? I am still listening to conversations in coffee shops and grocery stores that go much like this: “Those women are gold diggers. What happens behind closed doors is none of my business”. I ask incredulously, “Really”?

Here’s the thing: we cannot live in a bubble. Our actions, whether we or Ghomeshi want to admit it or not, impact others. We need to learn how to be repentant when we hurt one another. Our culture makes it easy to believe that we are only responsible for ourselves, that we deserve to do whatever makes us happy. I would argue that our lives are much more entwined than that. We were created to be in relationship. As author Henri Nouwen once said, “The mental and spiritual health of a community depends largely on the way its members live their most personal lives as a service to their fellow human beings”.

May we work to truly take care of one another.







Campfire Songs with a Happy Throng

I’d like to introduce you all to Daniel Pearce, The Dale’s Summer Student! Daniel is currently studying Film at Humber College. He is a lover of comedy: films, traditional stand-up and definitely Monty Python. Daniel enjoys all kinds of music, especially Punk Rock and Folk and is an avid reader, including poetry. Daniel recently turned 19. He calls Milton, Ontario home.

I am excited that Daniel has agreed to guest blog here during his summer with The Dale. He is quickly becoming a part of the fabric of our community and will have, I’m sure, stories to tell.

Daniel, serenading one of our youngest community members.
Daniel, serenading one of our youngest community members.

A campsite full of energetic kids and mosquitos may not sound like a fun few days to most Torontonians, but The Dale’s three night retreat to Camp Koinonia ended with an entire bus full of folks who didn’t want to go back home. And if you look at all the activities that were crammed into just a few days up at camp, it’s not hard to understand why most people would rather live in their cabin the rest of summer. From campfire stories to canoe escapades, between archery lessons, jam sessions, and enough ping-pong to make it Canada’s national sport, saying Camp Koinonia was a good time would be an understatement.

It is pretty close quarters in the Koinonia lodge, which is a very good thing, because just about everybody had a chance to interact with each other at some point. Every mealtime different people were sitting at different tables, but no matter who was sitting with whom, there was some good conversation going on. We had relatively good weather for our visit, save for a ton of rain on Tuesday. On the plus side, most people spent Tuesday together in the lodge, playing card games and catching up on World Cup soccer. It was so nice to watch people make the best out of a bad situation!

A big part of the entire trip was music, as is usually a big part of the The Dale. There were various instruments brought to the Monday night campfire, such as an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and even a ukulele! Of course, there were also a ton of voices joining in for classic campfire songs. During the day, almost any point of the day, music could be heard from the lodge. Various people tried out playing a few songs on the keyboard and guitar, but the biggest musical highlight was a big group sing-along, with a full songbook and different people playing guitar, keys and percussion!

Of course, the trip wouldn’t have even been possible without the Camp Koinonia staff, which was phenomenal the entire time we were there. Each meal was better than the last, culminating in a birthday cake served right before boarding the bus home! Staff was very friendly to all of us, and a few of them even joined some Parkdale musicians for a jam session, playing hits such as “House of the Rising Sun” and “Sweet Home Alabama”.

When you live in a city like Toronto, constantly rushing through subway platforms full of sharpened elbows and breathing in air that would make a tailpipe cough, it’s a blessing to have a few days of peace and quiet in the great outdoors. Everyone I’ve talked to was grateful for the opportunity to get away from the big city, and we’re all looking forward to another great trip to Koinonia next year!

Charity Remixed

I’m not always sure how to describe a Monday Drop-In, other to say it is most often a wonderful riot of activity. There is a large crew of people who show up first thing to get the room set up and the food underway. People chop vegetables. The same woman always cooks the meat. Coffee is put on. Souad, our Kitchen Coordinator, describes what the meal is for the day and reminds all of her “munchkins” and “angels” that she loves them. A small group of people gather in the corner opposite to the kitchen to make music: sometimes rather ambient, sometimes a mix of Beatles and Dylan, sometimes an Italian aria. On this day people danced to “This Little Light of Mine”.

Throughout a Monday people drop by to say hello or ask for a token. Some come (including me) to share their challenges and maybe ask for help. Others sit quietly in the same spot every week, drinking tea or coffee. Many people enjoy chatting. While there is more often than not a general sense of calm of Mondays, there are most certainly moments that are anything but, such as heated exchanges that need to be de-escalated. The thing that I love about the drop-in is that it belongs to the community. The lunch happens because of them. Even conflict resolution is shared.

At around 1:00 pm this past Monday 45 young people from around Ontario and Michigan showed up to experience the drop-in. I met them outside and suggested that people enter incrementally in smaller groups, look for a spot to sit and enjoy lunch. As I surveyed the full room I was struck by the beauty of the hospitality of The Dale community. One visiting group member turned to me and said, “you don’t need to serve me, let me do it.” To which I and others responded, “no, enjoy letting us serve you.” At one point I noticed large groups of youth scattered around the room, surrounding individuals telling their stories. Though our visitors could have easily and capably taken on the work of the lunch (getting it ready, serving and cleaning-up) they instead were hosted by us.

At The Dale we are playing with and trying to turn on its head the idea of “charity”. Many of us are accustomed to being on the receiving end of charity: others have what we need and give it to us. The problem is that too often this robs people of the opportunity to give. In other words, too often charity is a one way street. We believe that every person, regardless of their circumstances has something to offer. As humans we need to both give and receive. Monday was an opportunity to model this with 100+ people. For me, it was like charity remixed.


I recently spoke at a regional gathering of a network of people known as StreetLevel. Some people asked if I would share the same words here…

On a sunny day in June, nearly two years ago, I had to pull down the Parkdale Neighbourhood Church (PNC) sign from both the gate and door at 201 Cowan Avenue. For me, this act made things official: PNC no longer had its own building. That was the day we became a church without our own walls. I like to say it was when we “spilled into the streets”.

Fast forward to the present. Parkdale Neighbourhood Church is now known as The Dale Ministries. You might wonder why we would seemingly shift away from “church” by changing our name. As an organization we don’t function as a traditional church institution, for instance, we are not made self-sufficient based on tithing. Our people give, they just give out of very little. We came exceedingly close to ceasing to exist because of this. Playing with the language that had become a barrier to our long-term stability was worth it. At the beginning of our search for a new name, I asked our community members to describe what PNC meant to them. Though there were many descriptors used, the number one word was “safe”. A dale is a valley that cuts through a mountain, the place where one hides when facing a storm. Every day The Dale Ministries, or more often simply The Dale, endeavours to be a safe community for many, including me.

We are a varied group: some of us live rough outside, some in community housing and some in houses of our own. Some of us are struggling with addiction to street drugs or alcohol or television or eating too much food. Some of us have diagnosed mental health challenges that range from depression to schizophrenia. Some of us are refugees. Some of us are seniors. You get the picture. All of us are broken. We choose again and again to journey alongside one another toward deeper wholeness in Christ. We choose to be church. For The Dale this journey continues without a building of our own.

To be honest, I was relieved when the move out of our former space was finally done. The amount of “stuff” that had accumulated was, at least for me, astonishing. As we purged almost all of our belongings and packed just a few, I became thankful for the freedom from things. I also became admittedly overwhelmed, occasionally stressed and rather emotional. During that time I remember reading this: “You gain confidence through knowing that I am with you- that you face nothing alone. Anxiety stems from asking the wrong question: ‘If such and such happens, can I handle it?’ The true question is not whether you can cope with whatever happens, but whether you and I can handle anything that occurs.”

Becoming under-housed was an opportunity for me to discover if I was asking the right question. This was truly scary, for as right as I believe it was to move, it meant entering a time of unknown, of in between, of newness. In response to the question, “what is something that makes you sad?” one of our youngest community members drew a picture of many stick people carrying a large box. She said she felt sad that the people were carrying away her church. It was indeed what was happening in the eyes of that little person.

It was important to honour that sadness. I didn’t want to belittle the magnitude of the change. I joined with others in weeping. I also had to persist in announcing that as a community we could exist outside of a building. Today I am here to say we are still a community and that yes, though “church” is no longer in our name, we very much function as one. We continue to gather; to support; to create; to eat together; to question; to pray; to worship; to dance; to love.

By spilling into the streets we more fully inhabit our neighbourhood. By knocking on the doors of our neighbours we have found space (though it sometimes revolves) to run our programs: in churches, in stores, in community AND health centres- space that we don’t have keys for, but that costs us nothing. We have the opportunity to be shown hospitality at the same time as giving it. How beautiful is that?

Henri Nouwen once said, “Loving the Church often seems close to impossible. Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church – whether powerful or powerless, conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic – belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared. When we remember that, we may be able to say, ‘I love the Church, and I am glad to belong to it’…Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace. And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it.”

In the context of this little struggling church community I am/we are reminded of God’s presence. God has seen fit to multiply the loaves and the fishes in Parkdale and I mean this literally. On days when there was no money to purchase food for our drop-in we somehow had full plates. I am no longer the only staff- we are the Dale girls: Erinn and Joanna, surrounded by a community that has heard the invitation into full participation. Two years into this wild experiment we still exist! We are HERE. And we’re thriving.

My love for the church, my love for The Dale, is a true love.

Dale Ministries Logo-1




I am rather exhausted. Do you ever feel that way? Just tired out in every possible way? There have been a number of things going on that I am right in the middle of, though aren’t necessarily about me (or at least not directly) that are lending to my weariness.

Maybe a decent, though intense example of this occurred recently at the drop-in. On this day there seemed to be something in the air that was lending itself to everyone, including me, being out of sorts. A long-time friend and community member was in a bad way which led to some very poor behaviour choices, including becoming very threatening.  We are committed to keeping the drop-in safe AND respectful, so an intervention was required. I want to be clear: this person wasn’t threatening me. In fact, every time I was able to catch his gaze as I stood in front of him, he slowed down and tried to remind me that he has respect for me and “didn’t want to do this”. Though I was able to guide him close to the door, things didn’t end well. One final threat toward someone else, which included a fist, landed inadvertently on me.

I’m okay. Maybe a little shaken in the moment, though fine. I know that what happened had very little to do with me. In fact, it had very little to do with anyone who found themselves on the receiving end of this person’s anger. Knowing this doesn’t make what happened justifiable, it just helps provide a larger context and I do believe that context is important. My friend has some very deep-seated pain that is coming out in a very displaced way. In fact, as we spoke he encouraged me to know this and share it. I suspect we have all been through something similar: acting out towards others as a result of our own struggles, fist or no fist.

Since Monday I have moved steadily from hard situation to hard situation, with very little time in between. I am grateful for the space this little blog creates in my life to slow down, ponder and figure out how to articulate the things I am constantly learning and being taught (sometimes over and over again), particularly in the midst of a lot of challenge.

Maybe now I can actually have a nap.

Movie Time

I was at a conference this past weekend. A spoken word artist got up and summarized the thoughts we had been batting around all morning as a group. One phrase I’ve been rolling around my tongue ever since: I am made whole though I have holes. We are whole even with our holes.

I have many holes. While I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, the truth is some of those holes are hidden deep, deep down. I’ve come to realize that the more I share my own brokenness, the more people are willing to share their own with me. The stuff we share is painful and sad and sometimes just downright hard. Sound depressing? Maybe, BUT…

By making our holes the starting point, something beautiful happens: we are freed to discover the grace and mercy that can fill our lives. We can celebrate! We are no longer so concerned about hiding the flaws because we realize we are not alone. Being exposed has given me the courage to journey toward deeper wholeness. I’m like a broken jar of clay, except there’s light peeking out.

Today a dear friend and community member came to PNC a complete wreck. She was shaking and seeing things and seriously fearful. She laid all of it out for us to see. I ended up accompanying her to Old City Hall where she had failed to show up as an accused just days before. She was convinced that she would be placed behind bars, but knew she needed to account for her errors. On the car ride over she talked about being alone, misunderstood and living without purpose. She agreed that we should pray together once we parked. After a tearful few minutes we made our way to the office of the Crown.

Once there we made the amazing discovery that they understood her failure to appear and have given her another chance. What sweet, sweet grace. She wept again, though this time with different tears.

On our way home, my friend said, “Huh, I guess I’m not as alone or as dejected as I thought. You know what I want to do? I want to go to a movie, eat popcorn and get a huge pop, I haven’t done that for 20 years. Will you come with me? I want to get better. I want to celebrate”. She knows not everything is fixed, not all of the demons are gone. In that moment though there was a new light pouring out of her.

Yes my friend, let’s go to the movies.