Go to one church, leave another. Leave one church, go to another. Anyway you cut it, churches tend to demand our loyalty at the expense of the others. But can The Alter be different? This week, Mark explores how a community centred not on consumable content, programs, and resources but rather on rhythms and practices throughout the week can not only encourage but also celebrate people belonging to their own churches. Because if The Alter would be operating in "a pocket" - a discipline not competing with other churches' agendas - and if the Alter were not asking for money, then The Alter could actually complement other churches and become a group of diverse people gathered under the B.E.L.L.S Challenge - whether from another church, no church, from another faith, from an agnostic position, or even atheist. Could The Alter - can any church - be a truly ecumenical or even multi-faith church in and for Toronto?
Read about the B.E.L.L.S. Challenge in Frost's full e-book, The Five Habits of Highly Missional People on ForgePDX.org.
Then Mark sits down with Erinn Oxford, Pastor and Director at The Dale Ministries. Erinn talks about what it's like to serve in a model that defies typical and opoular definitions of "church." She discusses the masks we wear, how church can be a place where we hide, and how sandwich runs for street-involved people fostered her love for people on the margins. She explains how friends on the margins can be greater teachers and helpers to the privileged rather than the other way around, and gives us an insight into the challenges, the beauty, and the constant movement inherent in being a community without a building and focused on "spilling out into the neighbourhood."
Recorded on location at Marche Brookfield Place.
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Notable Quotes from Erinn Oxford
"The Dale Ministries Is a community that seeks to place at its core those who often aren't. So, people who are experiencing marginalization to varying degrees are placed at the core. It's not made up entirely of those who are close to the street or living in that kind of need…. We are a community that would say we want to invite everybody there into full participation of it in the best way that they're able to – that we are journeying together alongside one another in our collective brokenness, and that in doing so we hope to become more whole in Christ."
"I'm hesitant to label anybody. I've never liked the word the homeless even, because I don't think that anybody classifies me as 'the housed,' But I do want to recognize that there are people who really do live sort of on the outskirts of things. And usually in our context that means that somebody is dealing with being under-housed in some way – so, living maybe rough outside. A number of our people are also dealing with really significant addiction to substances; a number of our people are living on government assistance, and so maybe their whole cheque or a majority of their cheque might go to housing so there's very little left over. We have people who are refugees, we have people who are displaced from any kind of family - who have really experienced a great deal of hurt in their lives. And the kind of hurt that they're carrying is worn very close to the surface. And as a result, people make judgments quite often about them - people who aren't living in the same kind of circumstance. And so that's what I mean by marginalized: people who have more tend to maybe even be scared of some of the people who are a huge part of The Dale."
"I went to Tyndale…. There were a group of people who were going out every week and doing at the time what we called sandwich runs. And so we were making bag lunches and we were connecting with people on the street. The bagged lunch I think was important in that it helped people eat when they needed to, but it was more almost an opening – a way for us to engage with people. And over time, because it was so consistent that we were out, the people that we were meeting were becoming our friends. And I didn't want to leave."
"I had this fear of people leaving me - of relationships ending. And suddenly I was talking to people who maybe didn't have that same experience, but could say, 'I know what it feels like to be messed up. And here are the ways that I'm messed up.' And there were so few masks on those sandwich runs. It felt very stripped-down, and I think I found it - rather than scary - actually quite refreshing."
"I think overall, the culture of church is one where we don't always feel free to talk about those hard things. That we want to show how we're striving to be better and more holy and all of those things. And here were these people that were scared to say the ways in which they were struggling. And they were willing to confess before God things that I struggled to confess out loud. And I immediately felt like I was being taught something."
"If I don't know somebody well, but I'm willing to immediately respond to the regular question that we ask everybody – how are you? – by instead of just saying the typical response which is, 'I'm fine' or 'Okay,' not that I need to bleed out everything that's going on in me. But if I'm able to say, 'Well actually today is okay in some ways… and I'm struggling a little bit today,' that immediately the wall that quite often exists between people comes down. I think people are hungry for something that is more transparent and authentic."
"I think we all fear – I fear – being rejected. I fear that it will be too much for people to handle. And my life isn't just hard either. I want to be able to share both the good and the challenging. I want to get to a place in relationship where we can celebrate together too. But getting to that place in relationship requires a little bit of work and being open."
"...[On Wednesday evenings] we walk our neighbourhood. We stop when we encounter somebody, we go into coffee shops, we inevitably end up at Tim Hortons. One of the things that I also really love now about Wednesday nights is that people from our community are participating in that, as well. So we are quite a motley crew, walking through Parkdale at night. But it's amazing what can happen when we do that, and it makes us feel very connected to the neighborhood. When I talk about spilling into the streets as a way that we are now, this is part of it - we spend a great deal of time outside connecting with people exactly where they're at."
"Our largest-scale dropping happens on Monday. We're there from 10 until three, and it's housed by a Presbyterian Church in the neighborhood who agreed to house it when we lost our old space. So we have about between 100 and 120 people who come to that. And we have a meal. The food in large part is provided to us by Second Harvest – we're a Second Harvest agency. And it's an interesting way to cook because what happens is we get a Second Harvest delivery on the Sunday, and we decide what we're going to make based on what we get."
"I think important to the Monday drop-in too is that the kitchen – the people who are working to make the meal, the people who are setting up the room, the people who are cleaning up after - are all community members. And so it really is a meal for the community by the community."
"...The Sunday gathering is really important to the Dale. And I don't want to deemphasize or make it unimportant as much as I want to emphasize or highlight the fact that the church is about not singularly the Sunday experience.... and that's long been the challenge for us is in the way that we describe who we are. We want to say that we are a faith community, but so many people define church in this one way. So our worship time with people is quite special. I think increasingly people are recognizing that it is truly a time set apart for this specific purpose, which is to sing and to read and to pray and learn and work through how we're feeling about all of that. We stress that we want it to be a space where people can truly come as they are. Now that's messy. And I'm not sitting here claiming that it's easy...."
Next Week's Episode 37
Erinn Oxford, Minister and Director of The Dale Ministries (Part 2)