Church Indoors

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Back inside! It’s finally happening! We have moved our Sunday service back into the building. 

For many months now (i’ve honestly lost count), we’ve been having our service outside, under a tent, in the parking lot of the church in Parkdale that we have been residing in throughout Covid. Each week we would hope for the best when checking the weather on Sunday mornings. It was difficult to have consistency with the rain, wind, and the cold dampening our plans. We always worked with what we had, switching to outreach when the restrictions got more intense or having one on one prayers in the rain. Having to be flexible is what we’re used to at The Dale!

Besides those things, there have been a lot of perks to church outside! I know I have already mentioned it but there’s something so special about being out underneath the trees, seeing the squirrels go by, and hearing the birds all while worshiping together- and I’ve heard others say the same. Also, the openness of the outdoors offers less limits on people and where we sat was more visible for anyone walking by to see and jump in. I will miss having church outdoors, but I won’t be surprised if one day when summer rolls around we’ll end up outside again. 

At the beginning of the month, we had our first service inside. With masks, distancing, and a limit of 25 people, there was a carefulness felt in the room. Simultaneously, there was a comfort of being back somewhere familiar. These pews were the same ones most of our congregation sat in pre-covid. It was this same sanctuary where I got to know a lot of our core community members on my internship back in 2018. 

Our time together felt special- we gave peace signs to each other from across the room, worshiped with Erinn on the piano paired with an electric guitar played by a friend from the community, and we shared in communion together at the end. When the service wrapped up we all headed outside for some hot chocolate in to-go cups and for some time to catch up.

Being displaced throughout covid and in figuring out how to do church outside, has been a on-going reminder that church can happen anywhere, that it is all about the people. We are the church and will continue to be wherever we are.


My job with The Dale requires that I fundraise my entire salary! If you would like to support me in my work go to thedale.org/donate or reach out to me at livdower@gmail.com. Please prayerfully consider joining my team whether that be through support financially or through prayer! Thank you!

A Cherished Photograph

On this cool fall day, for lunch at The Dale we had a whole lot of chow mein , some pizza, and good chats. Though our lunch is done through bagged to-go meals in a line-up type of format, we still manage to meet new people, build relationships, and have some laughs. 

A gentleman who we just met and came to know throughout the Covid months, is usually found front of the line every Monday and Thursday. I’ve never had super long chats with him but I’ve learned over the months that he is quiet, patient, and kind-hearted.

Today, he came over to me asking for help with his camera. He recently got a really fancy camera and was struggling with how to work it/fix it because it wasn’t taking photos. I couldn’t think of any tips to offer him until Joanna made me realize that he actually had the camera on him. So we sat down together and I tried what I knew. That turned out to be a bust… so I called the camera specialist-Grant! My husband Grant is a photographer and a real pro with cameras. I called him on FaceTime so he could see all the buttons and I followed along his instructions, pressing what whatever he told me too. I doubted it would work at first, with nothing budging for a while and my phone battery nearing 1%. But then all of a sudden we heard a CLICK and saw a photo appear on the screen!

He was so happy! It worked! Then he said “let’s take the photo now!” I was confused at first and then Meagan also said “can we take the photo now?” Then they went on to tell me that our friend has been waiting to take a photo with us and kindly waited for a day I was there to be in the photo! Unfortunately he is leaving and we won’t be seeing him anymore so he wanted a photo to remember us. It was a really sweet moment that felt like a little miracle. The camera getting fixed was more time sensitive than I realized, and I’m grateful for how smoothly the situation resolved. A great reminder about how God’s at work, even in the little things, like making it possible for our friend to get a photo to cherish the memories. 

Nanny

“Bye love” is how Nanny always says her goodbyes. My grandma who goes by “Nanny” hasn’t changed her final greeting, from when I left her space back when she lived in my childhood home, to now when I leave her nursing home room. Always in the same tone with her Irish accent. 

For the past few months I have been visiting Nanny in her nursing home as a sort of “caretaker” role but mostly for a visit, to make sure she feels safe and surrounded by family. Though she usually forgets who I am, she knows I’m familiar and family. More often than not,  I’m June, which is my mom, and on those days I get more of her blunt honesty. Overall, I’m grateful for time there, especially after months of covid and not being allowed to see Nanny at all. 

After my first few visits I cried quite a bit. It took a while to adjust to seeing how much she changed and I thought about how long she had been trapped in there alone. Since I started, a huge blessing has been an opening in a spot for Nanny on the floor in the building that offers more nursing care. She’s busier and less lonely because all the residents on that floor gather together during the day rather than separating into their own rooms. She’s even made a friend and the nurses call them “two peas in a pod”. Her friend often barges into Nanny’s room looking for the exit but smiles when she sees us and stays for a chat or links arms with me for a walk around the halls.

Even though Nanny has forgotten a lot of things, there are beautiful moments when her old sassy personality shows or when she sings a song and somehow remembers the lyrics. I love playing the song “Danny Boy” for her because she lights up every time, and never forgets the words for that one. And the other day when Grant and I took her for a drive in the car she pointed at a building and said, “look at the size of that building, who needs it?” Which is such a classic Nanny thing to say. 

It surprised me when I realized, while watching very old home videos, that I’m starting to forget what Nanny was like before her Alzheimers. But no matter how much time has gone by I’ll never forget the ice cream soda floats she would make me and my cousins when we were kids, the way she used to come to the beach in Florida and sit on the shore to read while we played, the way Jasper (our dog) would always get a piece of her food and she would say “look at his wee face” or “the poor innocent thing”. There are many memories like those that I’ll remember forever.

We have fun, the two of us, and it’s been sweet getting to know the other people on her floor. I’ve been reflecting a lot upon what it means to grow old and the meaning of family. The moments when Nanny’s speech doesn’t make sense I daydream about the olden days and remember we’ll have those again in Heaven one day. It makes me think about the shortness of life, the urgency of time, and what type of moments I will and will not cherish when I’m Nanny. Like these visits, and like the reunion with people we all received when the covid restrictions got a lot lighter. Like the new friends that I get to make at The Dale and the chats we have on the street or sitting in the grass. Like a journey that I’ve been on recently attempting to have a more authentic relationship with God and a more stable quiet time, because I know looking back that will never be time wasted. 

Even though some of my visits with Nanny are quiet or slow, she’s been teaching me a lot. Just like she did when I was a little girl living under the same roof. 

Rebekah’s Baking

So much of what we talk about at The Dale is the power of community. Churches experience this when everyone’s different skills and gifts come together. Many parts of one body! An example at The Dale is when we would create a meal together during pre-covid days (i miss it a lot!). Some people would be chopping vegetables, some stirring the pots, some washing the dishes, and others playing music to set the vibe in the room. 

I also see this power of community come to life when fundraising for my salary at The Dale. If you don’t already know, my work with The Dale is completely funded by a generous team of donors. It’s something that I find hard, encouraging and discouraging at times, but most of all so beautiful. Through this fundraising I’m blessed with a team that prays, listens, and understands. It’s a team who I’m excited to share updates with, and who prays so faithfully. Each person is a part of the greater Dale community and each donor is the reason I am able to spend every hour that I do in the community. It’s miraculous, really.

This year, my sister Rebekah shared her very special gift of baking for my fundraising! 

In March she came up with the idea to sell Easter dessert boxes, where all proceeds went toward my fundraising! And this past July she baked her delicious scones and paired it with jam to sell in a summer strawberry box! Rebekah is known for her baking skills and generosity, never asking for anything in return. I’m proud to have a sister like her, and it is so special that she decided to use that skill for my ministry with The Dale. 

There was a lot of trial and error with this fundraiser. There were a few baking disasters but also delicious discoveries- like those cake-pops tasted better than I imagined, better than Starbucks, just saying. I’ll add a couple photos below, because I need to show off her amazing work! 

Baking with Rebekah and seeing her put all her efforts and time into this fundraiser was a good reminder that I can’t do this without my community. Between the people purchasing boxes and family and friends helping along the way, it was amazing to see this project come together only through the efforts of everyone involved!

Our Garden

Back before I worked at The Dale, I was involved with leading groups of youth to visit The Dale. This was with an organization called Project Serve that taught youth how to serve in the city (it’s really cool and you can check their website here http://www.projectservetoronto.ca). Since we had such big groups that would come, most often half the group would hear a story and the other half would visit The Dale’s garden plot! The youth would rave about this part of their day, The Dale was often their favorite place to visit.. and mine too!

In Toronto, there is an innovative and unique collection of urban gardens run by Greenest City. And how awesome, The Dale gets a plot! This summer is my first time being a part of this garden. Last summer, unfortunately, we didn’t save a plot because of Covid. This summer we wondered if it would be the same situation, but upon running into a friend in the community, we discovered that he signed us up!

In June, through donations and generous neighbours, we got a full garden in action! Now that it is late July we have so much in blossom, it’s beautiful.

Below are some photos I took to share with you! One special part of our garden is our pumpkin, planted in honour of our friend Chevy. She used to grow them herself and loved it. That is until the squirrels would come for them. Meagan and I screamed in excitement when we found our first little pumpkin last week, and had to tell the others.

I’m looking forward to seeing how our work in the garden will connect with providing fresh produce in the community!

OUR FIRST PUMPKIN
Today I went and discovered we have so many more pumpkins!

A Shoe Clinic

This past Wednesday evening, The Dale was able to host a Shoe Clinic!

I arrived in Parkdale, a half hour before the event, and there before me stood a shockingly large crowd waiting in line, ready to go. At first I was overwhelmed by greeting everyone, but it was nice to see some people we don’t get to see as often. Then I hurried inside realizing we had to get a move on things to get everyone some shoes!

Now it was super hot out, so from the start Erinn and Meagan handed out bottled water to everyone waiting in line. We also had some freshly made sandwiches that were just donated that we were able to distribute to feed the line while they waited. There were mixed emotions in the crowd, excitement for new shoes combined with the frustration of the heat and volume of people. Luckily we had some lovely volunteers to help move things along!

All of these brand new shoes and sandals were generously provided by The Meeting House Toronto, who also came themselves to help! They set up chairs in the shade where people could sit down, have their feet measured, and then we’re fitted with a pair depending on their size and preference. It was a similar event to when The Meeting House ran a winter boot clinic with us in March, and it was great to have them back.

While the Meeting House volunteers ran the shoe fitting, Meagan, Erinn and her husband, and I managed the crowd. For the most part we were amazed at how it all came together with only a few bumps in the road! Being in the line is always the best job. It is nice to catch up and have some chats. It is also how I have been able to meet a lot of new people (and sometimes cute dogs)!

Miracles at The Dale never cease to amaze me. Just like the Boot Day, the ratio of shoes to people seemed too good to be true. Though we didn’t have the exact amount, it was pretty close to it! We will be following up with only a few people to get them the right size. It was amazing to see the joy on people’s faces when they got a pair they loved or that fit better than they thought. Some people walked the line showing off their new shoes and others went and got their friends to get a pair too.

God really heard our prayers, and I am so grateful for another successful shoe day!

Fun in the Sun

I am not always good at putting my thoughts into words. So to share an update on how things have been going lately, I thought I would share some pictures.

The heat has been picking up, so below are some good moments we’ve been able to have at The Dale this summer so far.

To help keep people cool while they wait outside, we have been able to distribute Freezies! I love getting to hand them out because so many people light up when they see the cooler come out.

This Sunday, we had another lovely day for an outdoor church service. It was beautiful to come together in this way and see a lot of faces we have been missing. There was “Passing of the Peace” done with peace signs and elbow bumps, community prayer, a thoughtful message by Erinn, communion with miraculously the exact number of grape juice cups, and live worship music for everyone to enjoy at the end. It felt life giving to be together and do normal things, even if it was done a little different.

Outreach in the sun! Even though it is hot, it is great to be able to spend more time outside with people. Sometimes that looks like driving the van around with snacks, Gatorade, summer kits, etc. and sometimes it’s done by walking on foot with soup, bread, and water.

Strawberry season! A great thing about June is that it is best time to pick strawberries and make some jam. This is a little bit of a sneak peak of the (soon to be announced) baking fundraiser that I will be doing with my sister again. So if you like strawberries, jam, and scones, keep your eyes out for a facebook post coming soon!

Happy Summer Everyone!

A Day of Receiving

One of the best things about community is the two way street of generosity. Even though, in working at The Dale we are often giving to the community, lately I have been amazed at the amount of receiving that happens in a day. 

I especially noticed this last Wednesday. Erinn, Joanna, Kim, and myself geared up for our usual afternoon outreach with our lovely van- Morrison. That day, Erinn and Kim took the van, while Joanna and I walked the streets with bags of snacks and drinks. During our walk, Joanna and I met a kind lady sitting outside Dollarama. We chatted with her for a while and then turned around and talked to a gentleman sitting on a bench. They were both so nice and the man on the bench was excited to offer us some funny jokes. While finishing his jokes the lady then said she wanted to sing us a song and burst into singing “O Canada”. It was a sweet moment, I loved seeing both of them so full of joy. As we walked away I thought about how outreach doesn’t always mean us giving necessities to the community, but instead we are so often on the receiving end of things. Receiving the gifts of songs and jokes!

Later that day, Grant came to walk around the neighbourhood with me to take photos of some local restaurant owners for our upcoming fundraiser (more details on that to come!). The two of us met and chatted with some really friendly people. Our last stop was at a restaurant that serves Tibetan food. Parkdale is home to a large population of people from Tibet, it is commonly also called Little Tibet because of this. And yet, all this time I still have not been to any of the Tibetan restaurants, though their food always looks so good. When Grant and I met the restaurant owner he was so excited to get his photo taken and to be a part of our fundraiser that he could not let us leave without giving us some food. He started putting together a bag full of dumplings before we could speak and he even gave us some delicious mango lassi. Again, I walked into this task as something for me to do to give but came back being the one receiving the generosity of others. And this is just what one day looks like.

I feel that during this year and a half I’ve been at The Dale I have been learning from the community first hand how to give in different ways. Not out of money or abundance, but out of the sincerity of heart and with whatever one has to offer.

Delicious gift of Tibetan Food!

Chevy

I remember when I first met Chevy. It was my first Sunday at The Dale when I came as an intern in summer 2018. I had never experienced a church service like The Dale, and it really was something unique and special. Worship began with Erinn playing the piano and singing, a row of musicians in the front playing guitars, and the congregation holding their song books to sing- that is when I noticed Chevy. I will never forget seeing Chevy, with her little dog Jacob on her lap, singing and waving the dog’s arms in the air. I thought to myself, I have never seen a dog worship at a Sunday service, but that’s when I really took in how inclusive The Dale is- that even dog’s can praise the Lord in church. 

When I tried to meet Jacob I quickly learned that he does not take to new people very well. Well actually I learned that really he only trusted Chevy, no one else. She was his world and I really don’t think I ever witnessed one without the other. I loved how sometimes he would have his own chair at drop-in or a space on the pew. Chevy loved Jacob so much and I’m grateful for how he was there for her until her passing late last night. 

My friendship with Chevy grew a lot during the beginning of Covid-19 when The Dale came up with a Phone Connection Train, to take turns calling people in the neighbourhood to check in. I’ve had chats with Chevy in person previously, but on the phone I felt like we got to know each other individually. When I called, Chevy would tell me about some of her adventures that day, mostly about a show/movie she was watching or about the squirrels in her garden. She opened up to me more about her health conditions and asked me about my life. Sometimes Jacob would join the call barking and Chevy would laugh and translate what he was saying. 

One special moment with Chevy that comes to mind was one of the times I delivered her groceries on my own. At the time I was new to driving in the city and kind of did a few loops around the neighbourhood finding my way there. It looked like it was going to rain so I was trying to hurry. When I finally arrived at her place I couldn’t reach her on the phone to ask her to come outside. Then I looked up and just down the street I saw her walking her dog. She was surprised to see me and checked out the groceries I bought her, always looking for doritos or skittles- her favourite. We ended up walking on the sidewalk for a while together. Even though it started to rain, she asked me to sit with her on some steps outside her place to chat. Though it was raining and my car was parked in a temporary parking space, I couldn’t turn down the invitation to hang out. Now that Chevy is gone, I am very grateful for that time together. I don’t remember all of what we talked about but I remember laughing and Chevy pretending Jacob was talking to me while he gave me an unwelcoming side eye the whole time. 

Some words that come to mind when I think of Chevy are generous, sassy, funny, and strong. From all the stories I have heard from her and others, I’ve learned that Chevy battled a lot of difficult things in her life. Regardless, when I would see her she was always laughing and exuding joy amidst many trials. And that joy would spread to others with her very contagious laugh. Most visits ended with gifts from Chevy for us or to be passed on to a friend. Not too long ago, Erinn came back with a rather large Halloween decoration for me that feels extra special now as it sits in my house. 

Erinn, Joanna, and Meagan had a deep friendship with Chevy that goes on many years before I came. They have endless fun stories that I love to hear and they remind me of the real honour it was to know Chevy and be a part of the Dale family with them. Chevy will be so missed by us and her community. We love you Chevy.

Rethinking Church

I miss church. I miss singing worship songs with a congregation, and being in community with people at both my home church, Parkway, and at The Dale. This pandemic has really caused me to reflect upon what church is. I agree with many who say “church is essential” but I’m not sure that has to mean gathering in a building once a week. 

At the beginning of the church closures last year, at The Dale we knew we wanted to stay in the community so we made the decision to remain present through doing outreach. What this looked like was walking the neighborhood along Queen Street, checking in and chatting with folks, offering prayer, and handing out snacks and drinks (at a safe distance with masks). It was nice to feel connected in this way and we even ended up seeing some of the same folks every week. 

During this time, I thought about what church is. In the New Testament, the church is described as the fellowship and the unity of people serving God. The Greek word for church “ekklesia” means assembly of called out ones or a body of faithful people. Here it doesn’t mention a building, chapel, or pews, but instead a group of believers. 

One of my favourite things about The Dale is that it’s never needed to own a building to function. Experiencing this combined with a pandemic, which has locked so many doors, has taught me how “ekklesia” can look. That the fellowship in reading scripture with someone on the phone, in sipping soup together on the sidewalk, in colouring devotional colouring pages and sharing them with each other, in partaking in communion on the lawn with leftover juice boxes are all a part of church. It has been such a good reminder that church is more than just a weekly service.

Don’t get me wrong, having a gathering for a church service is still very beautiful and valuable. Over the past 13 months of this pandemic, as the guidelines ebbed and flowed we were able to have a handful of church services here and there, all outside in a parking lot space. And I really cherish those moments! But I’m thankful that God is still with us no matter what rules are in place, that we didn’t leave Him in the building, and that He is still at work. 

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