The other day I was sitting around a table in celebration of a friend’s birthday. As it happens, several of the people around the table I’d never met before. When I left an hour later, it struck me how many people in the world carry a fascinating story.
That thought also comes to me every Sunday when I look to the congregation and see not only a wide variety of people and faces, but also a great wealth of life experience. Truly, there are remarkable people sitting in that sanctuary, often anonymously, quietly, humbly.
The Rev. Dr. Bob Burrows is one. Among the list of accomplishments and years of service Bob has given to people in and beyond the Church is the Dugout. It started rather simply: Bob was troubled by the desolation of the Downtown Eastside, the poverty and loneliness disturbed him and he wanted to do something about it. Maybe create a safe place of connection and nourishment.
Many of us, I suspect, walk or drive through the east side and we might feel great grief at the sight of suffering, addiction, poverty and mental health disorders. We might make judgments, conscious or otherwise, or we might feel frustrated that more can’t be done by the City. But few of us actually do something, and even fewer find a response that lasts 50 years and beyond. Bob did.
Joining with the city and other east side agencies, Bob opened the Dugout on December 9, 1967. It provided a “living room” space for people who are homeless or underhoused to come for soup and bread, coffee and tea, a dry place to read, play cards, use a computer or meet a 12-Step group. It has been open virtually every day since ’67.
Ten years into the enterprise, the Dugout experienced financial constraint and was on the verge of closing. Aware of the good work and important presence in and for the community, the City decided to buy the building and provide free-rent, an agreement the City has maintained for the last 40 years.
Tomorrow (December 7th), from 2:00 – 5:00, the Dugout (59 Powell Street) celebrates it’s 50th anniversary and will include a visit from the Deputy Mayor of City of Vancouver, in recognition of the steady, faithful, important work a group of committed people can do.
On behalf of us all, congratulations Bob, and thank you for making the Downtown Eastside a more humane, gentle space that provides assistance to those in need and dignity to us all.
Once again, you never know who’s sitting next to you in the pews, and the stories they carry. Eh?
PS This Christmas Eve, our open offering will go to help support the Dugout as or local program and, as the international project, the school development in the small, mountainous village of Chwitziribal, Guatemala.