It has occurred to me a few times since the beginning of this year that as of February, I have been working in Parkdale for ten years. I can’t believe that it has been a decade, which is maybe why I repeatedly forget to even mention it. Cate was in senior kindergarten at the time. Now she’s in high school. Needless to say, a lot has happened since 2007.
Over the years I have persistently felt a deep sense of call to my work, even when (or maybe especially when) I would rather hide under a blanket and never come out. In some of my darkest times, it has been God’s still small voice inviting me to stay that has kept me going. When I was asked to re-vision the ministry of Parkdale Neighbourhood Church I was terrified. Now, five years into being The Dale Ministries, I am entirely grateful that I decided to try.
The building of friendships in Parkdale has been slow, steady work. I have walked the strip of Queen Street West between Dufferin Street and Roncesvalles Avenue countless times. I know good shortcuts through alleys. If I can’t find a person in their usual spot, I can often guess where else they might be. I have sat with people in ambulances, accompanied many to the ER at St Joseph’s Hospital, and kept vigil in its ICU. Week after week, year after year, I have fallen in love with the people of the village-like neighbourhood that is Parkdale.
Being at The Dale has taught me a lot. I have learned about delegation, diffusing conflict, and decision-making. I now know how to identify bedbugs, safely dispose of needles, and administer Nolaxone. I can write a partnership agreement. I have come to realize that while I want to please everyone it is impossible to do (and that’s okay). I see my weaknesses. I better understand the beauty and blessedness in brokenness, and that in sharing our wounds we can begin to heal.
Sometimes I get overwhelmed. The amount of death experienced in this work is too much. Having to ask people for the money to cover my salary and the general fund of The Dale is daunting and downright hard. By the end of certain drop-ins my head is spinning because I’ve heard my name called easily one thousand times. And then a person walks up to me and reminds me of how I am valued and loved, and that The Dale is necessary and a primary source of community for so many people, including me. In that moment I take a deep breath and think, “I can’t imagine doing anything else”.
Being close to people who know poverty has helped me see the ways in which I am poor myself. Together we remind each other to take each day moment by moment. Often it is a Dale friend who pulls me back when I’m worrying about a future that has yet to happen. We are journeying toward a deeper understanding of God and the ways that Jesus transforms us. It’s far from neat and tidy AND it is so good.
As I reflect on ten years in Parkdale and nearly twenty-three in street ministry, I am reminded of the words of Isaiah: “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” I have the honour of working at The Dale, a place that has spilled into the streets. It is exciting to imagine how each little bit of repair we are involved in is leading us to hope. There is a Sara Groves song that says, “That’s a little stone, that’s a little mortar. That’s a little seed, that’s a little water. In the hearts of the sons and daughters…this kingdom’s coming”. I believe that to be true.