unChurch?

Published in the NYT: February 6, 2007

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 — Homeless off and on since 1991, Rickey Robinson figures he needs to get close to God as often as he can. So on an especially icy Tuesday afternoon, as on many Tuesday afternoons, he bundled himself in a long black coat and joined a small group gathered in a corner of Franklin Square Park, where they prayed, sang a hymn and recited the 23rd Psalm.

[Street Church’s services are led by the Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery. photo by Andrew Councill for The New York Times]

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” the men and few women standing in a circle said. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

Some men could not bring themselves to look up from the grass. Others could not stand still. Most are homeless. They sleep at a nearby shelter and spend the daytime, when the shelter is closed, looking for warmth and food. They are the parishioners of Street Church, an outdoor worship service held on Tuesdays by the Church of the Epiphany, a downtown Episcopal parish.

“This gives me strength to deal with things,” Mr. Robinson, 49, said of the service and the meal that follows it. “I think God is with me. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I could survive all this.”

While churches have long provided meals, occasional shelter and indoor worship services for the urban homeless, a small but growing number of congregations now recognize that many homeless people will not attend traditional services indoors. So these congregations now go outdoors to bring church to the homeless and anyone else who happens along.

“When you become homeless, you become very aware of how people treat you,” said the Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery, who runs Street Church. “It’s hard to walk into a church, and it’s even harder when you are homeless because you’re worried about how you will be received, or if you smell bad. Some people never go inside at all, because they worry that they can lose all their stuff,” as in shopping carts that must be left outside, “or be sent to a mental hospital or to jail.”

Street Church began last February. Though Epiphany keeps its doors open during the day for everyone, and offers breakfast and an indoor service for the homeless on Sundays, the rector, the Rev. Randolph Charles, had wanted to expand into some type of outdoor worship, Ms. Jeffery said. So Mr. Charles met with the Rev. Deborah Little Wyman, another Episcopal priest, who started an outdoor worship mainly for the homeless in Boston 11 years ago and who wanted to find a church in Washington to begin a similar service.

Ms. Wyman, trying to introduce outdoor worship elsewhere as well, says she is working with churches and other groups, about half of them affiliated with the Episcopal Church, in 40 cities in the United States and abroad. Already some such worship is under way in cities including Asheville, N.C.; Atlanta; Cincinnati; Portland, Me.; and San Francisco.

“Our theology is to love and not try to fix them and just to be present where they are,” Ms. Wyman said of the outdoor congregants. “We’re not trying to sell any one theology or denomination.”

There’s no “selling” of theology needed. Just be the Church. I believe the Church exists to offer the world back to God as a fragrant thank offering. This glorifies God and is glorifying to Him. The way we offer the world back to God is by assisting the continuing work of God in the world’s transformation. We do that by bringing people to Christ and living holy lives, conformed to His Way and His will. So this attitude of “merely being present” is one place along a continuum of action that the world needs of the Church. And the human hubris of imagining that people don’t need fixing is born out of the same misguided liberal theology which misunderstands and then disbelieves the need for ALL people to be healed of their sins and restored to God. read the rest here.

And don’t get me started on whether or not what they are doing with Welch’s and 18 minutes is a snack or “Communion.”… In the 80’s there was the St. Francis Center in Denver. Every Sunday morning we celebrated the Eucharist with hundreds of homeless people in attendence. It was a regular service, right out of the Prayer Book, with all the lessons and music and a sermon and the Eucharistic Prayer. People were invited to receive if they had been baptized. We received the designation of “special mission” by the Diocese. We buried people, celebrated the liturgical seasons with them, and we were their church. All of this is merely to point out that one doesn’t have to dumb things down and pare things back and gut the meaning when ministering “outside the box.”

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