“Great love is born of great knowledge of the thing that is loved, and if you do not know it, you can love it little or not at all.”—Leonardo Da Vinci.
I WAS FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO HAVE LIVED IN POVERTY, living off the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table—“Welfare,” but also with my mother’s love. It was through her great love and understanding of the poor that her passion grew inside me. It was because of her strength that I was given the courage to love the poor, and they have returned that love tenfold.
Now, at 75 years young, I will turn another chapter over in my life journey. I will be spending time with my partner, friend, and lover Mary and our two grandchildren, Everett, age three, and Charlie, five months.
After three decades of ministry on the street, I will soon retire.
Thirty years have passed since the United Church of Canada’s Victoria Presbytery called me for the position of executive director of the Open Door ministry. I give special thanks to Audrey McLennan and Ann Beal for searching me out and inviting me to apply for the position. Also to my wife and lifetime partner, Mary Tysick and our children Jordan Cooper and Jared Cooper, for following me across the country. In 1994 our daughter Alicia Tysick was born and she is a blessing.
Looking back at the birth of Our Place, and then of the Dandelion Society, I find many to thank—and many fond memories, and some sad ones as well.
We thank the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations for giving their permission for Our Place to be built on their traditional land. Thanks to the late Jim Samson of the Songhees Nation for leading us through the protocol.
Thank you also to Dr. Robin Kruse for shepherding and leading the Open Door ministry to become Our Place, thanks to the late John Ronald, former chair of the Upper Room and the first chair of Our Place Society. Thank also to David Stewart, the executive director of the Upper Room and my partner, friend, and mentor. The two of us were the first executive directors of Our Place. Karen Blakely took on the great responsibility of raising the finances to build and operate the new Our Place. Thanks to all the board members, past and present, the staff and volunteers that made the ministry a blessed one.
We must also remember Allen Low, the Mayor of Victoria at the time, who secured the finances necessary from both federal and provincial governments to build Our Place.
Many others should be thanked. They all put their shoulder to the plow of faith and brought about the birth of Our Place.
After my first retirement—from Our Place—at age 65, Ned Easton came forward to help me create the Dandelion Society to serve Victoria’s homeless citizens, particularly those who have difficulty fitting into existing programs, usually because of their addictions or mental health issues.
Ned is both a lifetime friend and mentor who has always been there for me. Arthur Wright is another lifetime friend who joined us without hesitation to become our treasurer, and has served for the last ten years.
Thanks to the late Ann Cameron, who chaired the Dandelion Society in its earlier years. The present chair, Brennen Chow, has led the Dandelion Society to a new level of respect throughout the city and beyond.
Because of my history with both Our Place and Dandelion Society, I am especially pleased to announce, that after a year of careful thought, discussion, and analysis, Our Place Society will continue the fine work of the Dandelion Society through the Dandelion Outreach Services program. The board worked closely with Our Place to arrive at this decision. We have great respect and confidence in Julian Day, executive director of Our Place, its board and staff to faithfully continue the Dandelion ministry. Knowing Dandelion’s mission is left in good hands, makes my retirement especially sweet.
We are asking you all to continue supporting our work on the streets.
HERE’S A TRUE STORY about my journey to ordination: I was in my last year of study at McGill University. I could not pay the rent, so I called my home church and told the minister I needed to find rent money. He suggested I come home to Ottawa and preach the following Sunday. I did and was presented with a cheque in an envelope. When I opened the envelope, I found a cheque for $50. The trip from Montreal to Ottawa had cost me $60—so my rent problem continued to loom large in my mind.
That afternoon, at my mother’s house in Ottawa, our friends from the impoverished community I grew up in gathered at her kitchen table and listened to my story.
Two days later, back in Montreal, one of these souls called me and asked me to come home again, saying they needed to talk with me. I returned on the next Sunday. At my mother’s kitchen table—not in a church, but in the community where I grew up—I was given $1052, which these poor folks had collected among themselves.
You see, my calling to ordination was from the poor, to the poor. It is the homeless, addicted, mentally ill, and lonely who call the streets their home that have allowed me to answer my calling, and I thank them sincerely.
I would have done it without their thanks, but I have been blessed with thanks aplenty in return for my service. Here is just one of the many thank you’s I have received over my 30 years of ministry:
“Hey just want to say thank you! You drove me to the hospital [from tent city] five years ago after I got attacked and had my face smashed in. I had to have plastic surgery done. You were so kind to me many times while I was on the streets. I am now two-and-a-half years clean and have an almost 4-year-old daughter. Thanks so much for everything you do.”
This lovely note from Jennifer Bradley is typical of so many expressions of gratitude that I have received over the years. It has been a blessing to serve, to know a little help offered can make a big difference in someone’s life. It is I who thank those who have allowed me into their lives and to offer my support.
But I couldn’t have done it without the kind encouragement and generous support of the Victoria community at large. Please continue to support Our Place and its Dandelion Outreach program. Thank you all for your continuing support.
P.S. Donations are welcome! Cheques (and note indicating your gift is for the Dandelion Outreach Program) can be sent to: Dandelion Outreach Program, c/o Our Place Society, 94 Talcott Rd, Victoria, BC V9B 6L9—or simply call the Donor Services line at 250-940-5060, Monday to Friday from 8 to 4.