Beloved and essential

It was 10:10 on a Monday morning in mid-November, and the free community lunch at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston wouldn’t begin for more than an hour. But some 20 homeless men and women were already gathered around folding tables in the downstairs hall. They had work to do.

The big task of the day: putting handwritten stickers on hundreds of the shiny foil blankets that are given to runners at marathons. They planned to hand out the neatly folded packets to help other homeless people -- 7,000 in Boston by last year’s census count -- survive the impending winter.

“From a friend, to a friend,” one sticker read. “Stay warm,” read another.

“What happens if someone says, ‘Oh, can I have five?’” asked the Rev. Cristina Rathbone, a St. Paul’s missioner whose ministry focus is helping homeless people discover their gifts and become leaders. “If he’s going to pass them out, is that cool? Is that beautiful? Totally beautiful!”

This “Cloak Project,” which takes its name from Exodus 22, is one of several service projects pioneered and sustained by several dozen homeless and recently housed individuals in Boston, with help from St. Paul’s staff.

The ministry began as a typical soup kitchen at the historic church, which was founded in 1819 as the third Episcopal parish in Boston. But the effort has evolved into an innovative ministry that has turned recipients of assistance into providers of help. It has also turned volunteers into equal partners and learners at the feet of the vulnerable.

The standard church outreach model has been a service-delivery model “for way too long,” said Tony McDade, the executive director of the Greenville (S.C.) Area Interfaith Hospitality Network.

“Ministry in a purer sense has to do with engaging homeless people and having them involved in key decision-making opportunities that impact their own lives,” McDade said. “That’s one of the things that [St. Paul’s] is doing.”

The group was gearing up for an active month ahead. Some would serve and welcome guests at an upcoming Thanksgiving meal. Others would be putting out a new edition of The Pilgrim, a literary journal published by the ministry’s Black Seed Writers Group.

A salt-and-pepper-haired woman named Diana, who carries a full backpack by day and sleeps in a salon doorway by night, stood up and proposed a new project: sending cards to Boston’s homeless who’ve landed in jails, hospitals or other lonely situations.

“A lot of people don’t hear from a lot of people,” said Diana, who, like other homeless persons interviewed for this story, asked that only her first name be used. “They would think it’s a big deal [to get a card]. It’d be very cheerful to them.”

Click here for the complete article about this ministry.  Courtesy of Faith & Leadership The opinions and views are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Florida Conference.

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