Christmas caroling in ‘the hood’
Advent. Day 8 of 24
So last night I went Christmas caroling.
That’s right. You heard me.
Our whole family bundled up, drove to Parkdale, and went Christmas caroling.
It’s become a tradition for us now. Every year around this time, Erinn organizes a carol sing out of her work at ‘The Dale’. We tag along as a family and we love it. It brings on the Christmas spirit big time.
The Dale is a church. Erinn calls it ‘a church without walls’ because, well, they don’t have a building to call their own. They are literally without walls. They just meet in places where the owners are happy to share their space with them. This church is attended by folks who live in Parkdale, people who can be struggling to get by, men and women who are often under-housed and barely have enough money to both pay their rent and buy some groceries, folks who can be struggling with substance addiction and/or a mental health issue. It could also be people who have really good jobs with beautiful places to live and have found community, friendship, amongst the people at The Dale.
So this motley crew of people met last night at a church in Parkdale, ate some ginger bread cookies and rice crispy squares, prayed together, and then hit the streets with our carol books and jingle bells in hand.
Now for those of you unfamiliar with Parkdale, it historically doesn’t have the best reputation. It’s a so-called high-risk neighbourhood with all of the usual things one could think of when thinking about the inner city. So you can imagine how strange it might be to some people to see a posse of carolers roaming around those dark streets.
But here we were, walking around, singing Christmas songs in ‘the hood’.
We first went to the library. Erinn approached the staff there to see if they’d be cool with us coming in to carol, and they seemed truly thrilled to have us and invited us in. As we sang I noticed two very different types of people watching. There were those who were hunched over tables sleeping because they were exhausted and had no other place to go for a nap. And there were people who brought out their phones and had huge smiles and began filming this surprise event. My sense was that both groups were thankful to hear some Christmas cheer last night.
As we walked through Parkdale singing and chatting, I was reminded that this neighbourhood was gentrifying. Developers and chain stores saw Parkdale as an opportunity to make buckets of money. So, for example, there were existing places where one could buy a $1.00 coffee and sit and chat, and there were newer places where a $5.00 coffee and wifi could be found. Those with money were being invited in and the poor were once again being squeezed out.
So as we walked and sang, I experienced a range of emotions; joy and sadness, happiness and anger, belonging and exclusion, community and loneliness. I was also reminded that those emotions are felt by everyone regardless of how much money one has. In fact, I was reminded that those with less money and more community were much better off. The love of money is the root of greed, exclusion, fear, and all other evils.
At the end of the night the group huddled together and prayed. The man who offered the prayer is someone that health professionals have declared is ‘schizophrenic’. He thanked God for showing them mercies in both big and small ways.
His prayer was thoughtful.
It was genuine.
It was beautiful.
It was Christmas.
So last night I was also reminded of the resiliency of this group. They were staying put. They weren’t going anywhere. They loved this neighbourhood. They loved the Dale community. Parkdale is their home and no developer was going to change that.
Last night in this Advent season as I walked through Parkdale singing Christmas carols, I began to feel hope. I began to feel Advent longing.
I long for the day when there is no distinction between ‘the rich’ and ‘the poor’.
I long for the day when neighbourhoods stop being gentrified for the sake of lining pockets with cash.
I long for the day when everyone feels welcome, included, and loved.
Come Lord Jesus.