Takin' it to the Streets!
IglesiaFuera / StreetChurch
StreetChurch Beginnings, November 2004
--from The Interchange, February 2005
The Ecclesia movement, founded by the Rev. Debbie Little Wyman in Boston Commons, has inspired new efforts to take the Gospel to people who might never venture into a church. Cincinnati's StreetChurch was launched by the Church of Our Saviour, Mount Auburn, in November at a park on Vine Street at Hollister
-- more or less the boundary between the Cincinnati neighborhoods of Over the Rhine and Mt. Auburn. Every Sunday, as coffee hour nears conclusion, parishioners gather a substantial loaf of bread, a cruet of grape juice, Gospel Book, hand drum and some small paper portion cups, with a paper bag for collecting used cups (these will be burned later). We process down Hollister Street singing spirituals, past the bus stop on Vine and into the park to choose a picnic table. There we hear a brief reading from the Gospel, offer prayers and remember how Jesus offered himself to and for us all. The bread is broken and shared from one person to the next; the blood of Christ is poured out, one by one, for us all. We sing “Thank you, Lord,” exchange the Peace of Christ and process back up the hill.
One of our members, Carmen, is a natural evangelist. She is quick to connect with passersby and to invite them into the circle at Jesus’ table. Usually they come....
February 12, 2006
As we drove south on Race Street through Over-the-Rhine, huge white snow flakes drifted through the air. Our vision was limited to 50 or 60 yards, yet we could see the beauty of the old row homes with their brightly colored facades flickering between the falling flakes. The scene could have resembled an old fashioned Currier and Ives painting. + After our usual Street Church mission of dispensing sandwiches, cookies and prayers near the Library, we headed towards Findlay Market. Traveling north on Elm Street, we saw the other side of the neighborhood. Boarded doors and broken windows faced the street. Garbage was all about. It was not a picture anyone would willingly paint for themselves. + Near the corner of Elm and Liberty, we passed a group of men. They were well-dressed to protect themselves from the cold. We offered them the rest of our sandwiches and cookies. They eagerly accepted our offer of prayer, and we all joined hands as Mother Paula said the words that were in our hearts for these young men. + While we were together for those few brief moments, the smallest and perhaps youngest man never bothered to hide the bottle of Budweiser within the brown bag in his coat pocket. It struck me that the tiny portion of the red label protruding from this man’s pocket was the brightest thing we saw on that cold, bleak, dark afternoon.
He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. 1 Samuel 2:9
-- by Ronn S.
On a warmer day,... March 2012
... as we were breaking the bread, a young woman came along through the park, her bare arms covered with tattoos, leading a boy on a bicycle. When invited, she was uncertain, so the bread was carried to her. “This is blessed bread; we’re thanking God that Jesus is here with us. Would you share communion with us?”
“Well… yes,” she answered. The little boy wasn’t sure what to do when bread was offered to him. “Take it, Steve,” the woman said. Then came others with the Blood of Christ -- and with gloves, just in case. Carmen talked with her as the others returned to the table. Steve is not her son but she does what she can for him. She asked, “Steve, do you know about Jesus?” He had heard about God but not about Jesus. “I guess I’d better tell him about Jesus,” the woman said.
We had thought we would be evangelists. Now the mission was taken up by a tattooed young woman, cigarette and soda bottle in hand, because she had just received the Body of Christ. And somehow she became that Body herself.
Ash Wednesday / Miércoles de Ceniza
Geneva, Dewey, Pat, Jean, and Jim G, gathered with about 20 Janitors and SEIU organizers at noon on Ash Wednesday downtown. We processed to the corner of 6th and Vine, carrying signs calling upon Jancoa to REPENT of discrimination against mothers, unpaid overtime, dangerous work conditions, labor law violations, and more. + Some leafleted on the corners, while others continued a slow, deliberate procession with the signs -- in front of a building whose management had broken their word to work with a more responsible cleaning contractor. The leaflets were headed with a quote from Isaiah 58, familiar to Ash Wednesday church-goers. “Is this not the fast that I desire? says the Lord. Is it not to break the bonds of oppression?” + After about half an hour, we gathered in a closer circle. Reflecting on the shortness of life and our need to invest our time in doing justice and working for the common good, rather than wasting our lives and resources on less important things, we read the Letanía de Penitencia in español, and many received the traditional ashes. Recuerda que eres polvo, y a polvo volverás. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. + Then, mindful that we are all citizens of a larger commonwealth, as a gesture of helping Jancoa's leaders to realize that they too are dust and must invest their lives wisely for good, we marked ashes on the signs bearing their corporate name. + Our Matron Saints, Dewey and Geneva, made sure that the Janitors would not go to work that evening without sustenance. We went back to the SEIU office for a wonderful vegetarian repast of soup and sandwiches.
The most rewarding experience...March 2012
... that I have with Street Church is with the children. There seems to be a greater and more consistent interest among the children than with the adults. + At Jackson park there is small play section for children that has a swing, sliding board, monkey bars, etc. Children would frequent this area regularly during warm days. The children were curious and inquisitive about our presence. Mother Paula would explain our presence and invite their participation, continuing to explain the ritual and purpose while introducing them to the Way of Christ. + Instead of being bored and inattentive, the children were even more inquisitive and partook of communion. + What I found most amusing was the children desire for more bread and grape juice. They would ask, "Can I have some more of that?"
StreetChurch teamed up with Integrity for the Pride Festival, 2006. The Parade was a very long procession for us -- complete with incense, streaming cross, statue of St. Martin de Porres, cars, fliers, banners, and invitations to our "Mass in the Grass" at Hoffner Park. It is a joy to carry the Gospel where at least some folks weren't expecting to be invited.
The StreetChurch tradition continues (Pride 2008):
The 4th Sunday of Pentecost, July 2
It was a blistering hot day, especially on the sidewalks downtown. We set out with 15 sandwiches, wondering whether we’d find enough people outdoors with whom to share them all. In Garfield Place, we met a man who was pleased to be offered a sandwich and a prayer. “I am glad for all prayers,” he smiled. “I have cancer.” The whole group gathered round and participated in an informal laying on of hands, to which he responded with tears and a peaceful smile. + There were some positive interactions along the way, but the numbers were indeed sparse as we circled the library block. Amandine, with her dog Seamus seeming to think he should act as our scout, challenged our model of evangelism, with her quiet example. “Let’s go over to 8th and Walnut,” she offered. “There’s a lot of prostitution over there at night. Sometimes I just take some of the women to my place for a good meal and some peace.” Amandine’s hospitality quickly became a model for the rest of us. + We did not find the trade on Sunday afternoon, but there was a bar open to the street. Some people coming in and out seemed to be patrons, but perhaps they had friends who would buy them a beer, because they appeared to be truly lacking in resources. They were so thrilled to be offered a sandwich, that some would go inside to bring out a friend who was also hungry. They were truly glad for the prayers, too. Seamus helped our efforts by darting right into the bar on his retractable leash, and sitting down near some clients, who then talked with Amandine when she had to come in after him -- because he would not budge! More clients stepped out then, to talk with us. In the meantime, Brad and Brian were the soul of hospitality, engaged in what could have become an endless conversation with “Stan” about the Cubs and the Sox. It seemed that Stan was more starved for human interaction than he was hungry for the sandwich. Soon all our sandwiches were gone. + As we were preparing to leave (with a disposable cup of water which the bar people had brought out for Seamus), a young woman came running out to us. “I don’t need a sandwich, just please, pray for me!” She closed her eyes and seemed intent to absorb every word offered on her behalf as we held her hands and prayed. It was hot on the sidewalk, but a refreshing spirit had stirred.
Advent 2005March 2012
StreetChurch "away team" ministry has been well received. We've gone out in the rain, the cold, and the snow, to the central Public Library and a couple of blocks north and south of it on. Every Sunday we give away all of our bag of sandwiches; it doesn't take long. On Advent 3, our newest team member Ronn S. had provided Christmas cookies to go with the sandwiches: these were also a hit! We will definitely be able to use adult-size gloves and caps if you are able to contribute them to the Sunday offering basket. We found several people this Sunday who were grateful for the gloves we could give them. Folks are clearly surprised to encounter 2-4 people on the street who ask if they'd like a sandwich. Of course not everyone wants or needs one. But often even those who say "no thanks" call to us as we leave, "God bless you!" Almost everyone who welcomes a sandwich is also appreciative of our asking to pray with them. Some seem deeply moved. "I needed that, even more than the sandwich!" one new friend told us this week. Another said, "This makes my whole week better."
Could it possibly be any hotter than this? We all wondered. Bill and various assistants worked on our frozen sandwiches, embellishing with sweet pickle relish. Suddenly we remembered our yet-unused thermal 5-gallon jug intended for hot soup in the winter. Nancy C. made a quick run to Kroger for ice and lemonade powder. Amandine and Seamus were in charge of pouring. WE GAVE OUT LEMONADE TO 50 PEOPLE on the blazing sidewalks of downtown Cincinnati . Most of those were very happy to pray with us also. It’s as if “the cup of cold water” offered in the name of Jesus made the prayer more believable, more real, more to be desired than before.