37) Church: A Moratorium on Spending on Ourselves | Erinn Oxford (Part 2)

In the face of declining revenues and shrinking financial margins, churches can either preach and teach harder to extract higher giving out of their people, or rethink the model entirely. This week, Mark argues for the latter. What if church were actually free? What if instead of paying church staff to deliver teaching, music, and charity, urban Jesus-followers focused on low-cost-to-cost-free gatherings centred around discipleship, accountability, and relationship, and then funded and supported seminaries, artists, and non-profits for training, worship experiences, and social justice work during the week? A moratorium on spending on ourselves could do much for the church's credibility and allow for great change in how we talk about and how we use our money. This could change everything. 

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 again with Erinn Oxford, Pastor and Director at The Dale Ministries. In this week's Part 2 of the convsersation, Erinn talks about the shape of the weekly gatherings and who is served by The Dale. She talks about continuing on when times were so tough it looked like The Dale might close. She talks about partnerships and what it's like to depend on God and the kindness of others to meet and to be provided for as a community, and about 10 lessons learned in her 3 years in her role at The Dale. Finally, we sheds light on how we are all poor, how we all need each other, and what the good news is for Toronto.

Recorded on location at Marche Brookfield Place.


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Notable Quotes from Erinn Oxford 

"We do have people arrived who are sometimes in a really desperate place when they come. Who might be under the influence of a substance. And so we always say to people, what we need to do both that our worship service and at every other time during the week is that it needs to be a safe and respectful place. And so if that's called into question somehow, if somebody's not making somebody feel safe and respected, we would have to challenge that behavior. Our hope on a Sunday is that if somebody's in, we might be able to create another area for them may be to sit."

"We always start a time with a bit of silence – intentional silence – because I think for all of us our weeks can be so full of so many things... so much noise, and we don't always accomplish a completely silent space, but I always say, 'Let's endeavor to quiet our hearts even if there is other stuff going on around still.' We sing – we have songbooks where people can call out and request a song. We use a stole - both as almost a talking stick, so that when that stole is around somebody's shoulders, we know we are to give them our full attention, but it's also been important for us to signify that we have a shared responsibility in the community and that leadership isn't just for me to take. So I always invite somebody to place the stole on my shoulders."

"I always ask other people to do the reading of Scripture. We have a community prayer time where everybody is invited to participate. We make clear that if praying out loud is not something that you are comfortable with, we want people to recognize that our unspoken prayers are heard as well. There's a lot of voices that contribute to our prayer time. I do teach. It is very conversational. I invite people to ask questions; I invite people to engage with whatever we are working through – whatever text we're looking at. We celebrate communion every week. And we serve one another the bread and the wine and the juice. And quite often it's not me at the end who is sending us on our way, so I invite other people to do almost a doxology and to release us and invite us into a week of peace. We also pass the peace to one another, which is an interesting exercise for us. I always need to make clear that when we pass the peace to one another we need to do it in a way that is respectful about whatever relationship we might be in with that person. So we are trying to teach people good boundaries sometimes. And so it could mean that we hug one another; that could mean that we wave at one another. But let's share this peace with one another."

"And we do have an offering time where I always - and this usually is my voice – invite people to give back a portion of whatever it is that God has given them. And I really want people to hear clearly that that can look different than something that fits into an offering plate - that there are other ways to give. And that's part of the full participation we are calling people into."

"And so to go back to the earlier part of the question about what's challenging about describing us as a church, so often people think that a church is made self-sufficient through the tithes of its people. And so our struggle has been that's what the church world expects that of us. And the funding world also expects that of us because that's how churches work. And so I'm always trying to figure out ways to describe us differently. We don't fit into the traditional box... And our people – our community – are giving and giving generously out of their very little. And I say it's kind of like the widow's mite: we can take up an offering and it can be $9.01."

"So that's kind of what our Sunday thing looks like, and I want to acknowledge that I view everything that we do throughout the week also as an act of worship. So the giving of a cup of water, the feeding each other...."

"The Dale Community – and I include myself in that – is one that quite often struggles with the notion of grace. So it's become really important to consistently remind ourselves that we are invited to come. That we are not required to have it all together In order to come. In fact, it's when we discover that we don't that we can fully embrace this notion of grace. So I feel like it's a very tangible way for us to be reminded of that."

"In our community again, there are a number of people who take communion very seriously, and sometimes struggle to take it because they feel like they are out of communion with somebody else or need to seek forgiveness and all of those things. And I think that too has been important for me to see, coming from a more affluent church background where we talked about taking it seriously, but it was very rare that somebody would take the time to go and say sorry to their brother or sister. So we need the space in which to do that. And it's happening at The Dale - it's the moving of the spirit. I'm convinced. There are people whose buttons are pressed by somebody else and who get really angry and leave and maybe disappear for a while, but those same people are now coming back. And part of the prayer time will be to say 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry, to this person' directly. 'I realize that I need people to help set me straight,' and then embracing during the peace. Those really tangible things are happening."

"The more that we grow together as a community in that worship space, the more people are drawn into it. People find us – the entry point into the community is quite often via drop in. And when we had a building, it always meant that somebody needed to actually find us. We were in a basement, and it wasn't the most accessible space. And so people needed to find us. I find now, by being out and about and in all of those 'pinned' locations, that there's so much more opportunity for people to find us, and then once people… sense that there is a place where they can come and it's safe and respectful, that eventually they do end up."

"I always go back to the Beatitudes. And I feel there is this invitation to see that we are blessed in our poverty; we are blessed when we mourn; we are blessed - all of those things - 'blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.' I feel like when we are stripped down to those places that we can't help but turn to God because there's so little left of us and we realize that we need God to be in those places. So while there are many people in Toronto that aren't financially poor – who have maybe more than they could even ever dream of – I think the human condition is that so many of us know what it is to be lonely, so many of us know what it is to struggle with arrogance. And then on the other side of that, to struggle with feeling worthless."

"'If I lose all of this in a moment -which is possible for any of us – what am I left with?' And it was in that pretty desperate place that I realized that I couldn't find my value or my worth in any body or any thing. And I think that the reality is is all of us could find ourselves in that place - that those with the largest wealth also could just be paychecks away from finding themself from finding themself in a place like some of my friends do under a bridge."

"For The Dale, we had that experience of having to give up so much - we gave away almost everything we owned. We gave notice on the building that had been our home for a long time. And I don't want to belittle how hard that was, because it was hard. And there was loss – especially for a community that doesn't have much of its own to begin with. But let me tell you, the freedom that was born out of that – of no longer needing to worry about a leaky roof or or having to pour a lot of money into maintenance or the keeping of stuff – suddenly we didn't have that. And so we were free to just simply walked the neighborhood. And so was it loss? Yes. But it was also all of this other stuff, and there's beauty in that."

"And so I guess my hope is for Torontonians who find themselves with much - there are lots of people who will live and die with much – but to hold it lightly. For all of us to learn to share what we have is so important."

"I guess it was ironic for us that we were facing closure, but yet there was this huge community of people who were gathering still all the time. And so the closure was really - we had to face that there were structural challenges and financial challenges, but there was still this vital group of people gathering. And that's what was so important to me that we continue. I felt a really deep sense of call to stay and was invited to try and reimagine what we could be."

"I think we needed to learn to that we needed to learn how to share our story more. I think it was in the telling of our story. I think it was in the sharing of these profound things that were happening in Parkdale that people started to take notice of what was going on and started to recognize that this thing did need a broader network of support. That there was something important happening there and it was important that it continue."

"In the midst of our challenge, a friend of mine sent me this really beautiful Advent reading that included a quote from somebody about how the cradle of darkness is sometimes where things grow. I think it was titled The Ancient Symmetry of Growth – that it seems strange or paradoxical that you would have to commit a seed into the darkness of the earth in order for it to grow up. And I feel like that's been a really good metaphor for me in all of this - seeing how maybe we needed to go through some very dark things in order to take on new forms."

"Somehow I felt like the next steps that we need to take – I knew what the next steps that we needed to take were..., because the light was provided by God to take that next step. So for the first six months, it was primarily me knocking on doors and saying to people, 'Hi. This is who we are; this is what we do. Can we talk? You have this great building and I know that there is space available or that there is nothing going on at the very least during these times. Would you be willing to share with us? How can we work together? What does it look like to not reinvent the wheel? You want to be involved in doing a drop-in; maybe rather than starting another one, come and be a part of this one and we can do it together.' So the partnership isn't just about the space (though it's largely about that); it's also about inviting people into the work that we are doing."

"There were times honestly when I didn't know if there would be enough money to pay for the groceries that we needed [for drop-in]. And Second Harvest was the reason why our drop-in never had to cease. And I don't say this lightly – I feel like I was witness to the loaves and fishes being replicated.... There are times when we look around the room and we think, 'Oh - this is a busy day and it felt like we didn't get as much food as we normally do. How is this going to be?' And then were still sending people home with yogurt containers of leftovers. It's truly amazing."

"I want the good news of The Dale to be the same good news that we read about in the New Testament. I want the good news for everybody who comes to be that they are loved. That it is in the context of what were doing at The Dale that we want to provide a space for them – for all of us – to rediscover who we are, to learn how to disagree well, to trust that we're not going to shun anybody because of something they may have done wrong. I want the good news to be that there is hope – that we can hope in a life that goes far beyond the one that we know right now. I want the good news to be that we are willing to share what we have with one another so that more and more people will not go without. I want the good news to be that the kingdom is in many ways already here and that we look forward to it being fully realized."


Next Week's Episode 38

Dr. Cyril Guerette (Ill Seer): Pastor, Rapper, Professor