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Beth Malena

2005-2007- Volunteer; 2008-2014 Staff

October 20, 2021

My time making friends over coffee and card games on Friday afternoons at 239 Main Street became a lens through which I saw my future in ministry.

I started volunteering at Jacob’s Well in 2005, which was also the year I began studying at Regent. My time making friends over coffee and card games on Friday afternoons at 239 Main Street became a lens through which I saw my future in ministry, and the true test of whether the theology I was learning was relevant in the real world.

In 2008, Jane Halton (a core staff member who did bookkeeping, among other things), went on maternity leave, and after some hasty lessons in accounting, I joined the staff to cover for her. It was a stressful summer. Our Executive Director, Joyce, was on sabbatical, Tom & Karen had just moved to Galiano Island, and finances were tight. Some months the staff received only partial pay cheques, supplemented with vegetables from Red Clover Farm (the community gardens we ran). Even the farm was struggling; there was a rat infestation in the neighbourhood that summer, and they were consuming a lot of what we grew. I remember we tried all kinds of solutions: spraying plants with a garlic solution, pumping car exhaust through a pipe into their burrows, even hiring a man who enjoyed killing rats with his slingshot at night, affectionately known to us as “Wayne the Rat Sniper.” There was a big windstorm at the Okanagan Gleaners’ while we were there that summer; I remember collecting tons of cherries that had been torn from the trees, which we baked with at the Well throughout the fall. We enjoyed bringing neighbourhood friends to visit Tom on Galiano Island and take a break from the chaos of the DTES. That was also the year I joined the Wednesday night worship team, and singing and praying with that crew would become a weekly routine for me for the next six years (which meant I sang “Amazing Grace” weekly for six years, since it was ALWAYS requested! I quickly learned some new tunes for it!).

I took on more staff responsibility the next year, leading volunteer teams and doing more teaching & worship as part of my MDiv supervised ministry at the Well; I also moved to Strathcona to be more connected to the DTES. I remember 2009 & 2010 as years of reimagining our vision and leadership structure at Jacob’s Well. Joyce, our founding ED, had stepped down, leaving her successor, Sharon Smith, with big shoes to fill. Sharon brought her wealth of experience in the mental health field to Jacob’s Well, but she had a different vision than the rest of the staff. When she left a year later, there was much rebuilding of trust to do between the remaining staff and board. We started meeting together for meals before board meetings, and developed more of a flattened leadership team model that worked well for the next several years. We talked through our commitment to keep deepening friendships in the DTES while also equipping and teaching the wider church. In the midst of it all, the Vancouver Olympics brought stresses to the neighbourhood, and bringing in enough donations to pay staff continued to be a struggle. Even so, our landlord at the Jubilee kept threatening to raise our rent.

In April 2011, we had our first major flood at Jacob’s Well. A resident of the Jubilee above us had used a huge fire hose to extinguish a fire in their room, but didn’t know how to shut it off, so gallons and gallons of water poured down through our ceiling, soaking the computers, cabinets, wood floors, and piano. I remember leaning on our networks in the neighbourhood in order to keep running our meals and gatherings, borrowing space from Mission Possible, the Listening Post, and the coffee shop next door, while we ran dehydrators at the Well to dry everything out. The Creative World Justice Festival that summer became another chance to solidify partnerships with like-minded ministries, which bore fruit in the form of the Welfare Wednesday Coalition that started up that summer. For a couple years, every month on welfare cheque day, we worked together with the War College, Servants & MP to cover 24 hours of intercessory prayer shifts in the Jacob's Well prayer room; we offered DTES residents van rides to supermarkets; and we ran an alternative clean/sober hang-out space in the form of a day-long block party, with live music and food for sale (proceeds going to the Dalit Freedom Network). Our intern, Kat Callaghan, also initiated our weekly Art Time at Jacob’s Well that year, and ran our first community art show, and we celebrated Jacob’s Well’s 10-year anniversary with a big party.

I think 2012 was one of the toughest years at Jacob’s Well. Our friend Ricky passed away suddenly; he had brought us so much joy with his singing and guitar playing, and it was tough not being able to say goodbye. The death of our long-time community member and board chair, Sue Stewart, was another blow, though we were grateful to start a fund in her memory that would allow for some health benefits for staff. We were having trouble managing the Farm, so we handed it over to my church, God’s House. And in October, we had another big flood – I remember Berto drying out our computers in the oven on a low setting! – and this accelerated our conversations about possibly finding another space. There was also a lot going on politically, including the Occupy movement, the Truth & Reconciliation process, and Idle No More, which inspired lively and important conversations around the door-tables of Jacob’s Well, at our weekend workshops, and with groups of students who came to learn. In the midst of it all, we commissioned our first “mission team” – Berto and Tony (Doan) traveled together to Asia, visiting Tony’s family in Vietnam and connecting with inner-city ministries.

I have many good memories from 2013-2014, my last couple of years at the Well. We started up monthly Variety Shows, inviting people to share their talents and strange abilities, to rousing cries of “variety!” I remember Helene singing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Tim ripping apart phone books, an immersion learning student riding his unicycle, Robyn reading a soliloquy from Hamlet, many singer-songwriter solos and duets, and group singalongs. That summer, neighbourhood friend Rob led me and 13 Immersion Learning students on a hike up Black Mountain to see the secret hideout where he tented throughout the summer, which ended up being a much longer and more challenging hike than any of us were prepared for: 10 hours over boulders, switchbacks and snow! I also remember the joy of getting to bring Tony’s kids on the Gleaning Trip for the first time, watching them enjoy chopping veggies and swim in the Okanagan lakes. And I remember Yolanda getting a small grant to lead us in a big art project – a multi-canvas “Community” piece. More personally, I spent those years telling members of the community that I was gay; I was grateful that so many of them were willing to love and support me through that vulnerable time and celebrate with me at my wedding in 2014. Before my wife and I moved to Toronto to start new jobs that summer, we also got to participate in the recording of Jacob’s Well’s live collaborative music album, capturing our Variety Show vibe, which was a huge privilege.

Of course, listing all of these major events in the timeline of Jacob’s Well bypasses all the little ordinary moments that fill my memories... countless games of Big 2, so many chats over dishes, jamming with Edwin, crying while cutting onions every Tuesday for the meal, endlessly plunging the bathroom toilet, picking blackberries at the garden, baking so many crumbles and birthday cakes, playing worship songs to the (sometimes irregular) heartbeat of Bobby’s drum, hosting colleagues from the neighbourhood for lunch, teaching at Weekend Workshops, delivering food to Marie, singing Tom Wuest’s songs, and visiting Pauline at the Icelandic Seniors’ Home. 

I’m so grateful for the ways Jacob’s Well shaped my understanding of marginalization, privilege, friendship, mental health, addiction, faith and calling, and continues to positively impact my ministry and pastoring today. It’s taught me not to discount the small, the slow, or the seemingly insignificant aspects of my work. Jacob’s Well community always felt like a work in progress, always finding and rediscovering itself, which was sometimes frustrating, but was also such a gift – the freedom to try new initiatives as new members brought their gifts and passions, and to drop what was no longer working. I’ve loved watching that flexibility and creative development continue in more recent years at Jacob’s Well, especially as the community has faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. I think a piece of my heart will always be with this community. Happy 20th birthday, Jacob’s Well!

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