Reaching Out: Local Ministers Team Up With Harvard Divinity School

Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

Throughout the summer, fall, winter and spring the homeless gather at the Cambridge Commons every Sunday to hear readings of the Gospel, the Bible and religious hymns.
The Outdoor Church of Cambridge is a collaboration between a group of socially conscious ministers, the Harvard Divinity School and the Boston Theological Institute. The Outdoor Church of Cambridge’s pastoral service is lead by three ordained ministers, Rev. Jedediah Mannis of the United Church of Christ, Rev. Patricia Zifcak of the Episcopal Church of Massachusetts, and Rev. Jean Chapman, of the American Baptist Church.
The Outdoor Church of Cambridge service program was founded in 2003. Over the past seven years it has grown to also provide outreach service, combining the pastoral program and food distribution to approximately 140 homeless people weekly.
These three ministers decided to start this pastoral program as a comfortable and safe place for homeless people to hear readings of the Bible, religious hymns and pray in a nondenominational environment. A year later the pastoral program expanded to include the MBTA Porter Square Station plaza. An outdoor service is also held every Sunday at 9 A.M. at the Massachusetts Avenue station’s front entrance. Additionally, the program grew to include mission walks between Harvard and Brattle Square and down to Central Square to talk to the homeless.
“We provided food, comfort and information on city agencies, housing, and shelters to people in need on our walks throughout the city,” said Rev. Mannis. “We provide people recommendations and referrals along with phone numbers. Some of these people have trouble linking up to the variety of Cambridge city services like job training, shelter availability and housing. Some of these people previously have had jobs but are not working now.”
In addition to pastoral services and food, they also distribute surplus clothes and toiletries to the homeless. The clothes are provided by the members of the supporting churches of Cambridge, and the toiletries are provided by local Cambridge churches.
According to Rev. Mannis, the Out Door Church of Cambridge works with the Harvard Divinity School and the Boston Theological Institute lay-people to facilitate the services.
“The Divinity School and the Boston Theological Institute co-lead the pastoral service and interact with our regular church members, general public and the homeless,” said Rev Mannis.
Along with providing services to members of Cambridge’s homeless community, The Outdoor Church of Cambridge also provides outreach services to people in prison. They visit prisons located in Eastern Massachusetts and nearby Boston such as Concord, Bridgewater, Framingham and Norfolk. They visit both male and female prisoners who previously attended the Cambridge Common or Porter Square pastoral service and are incarcerated either because of a conviction or because they were unable to post bail.
“We usually visit people before they are going to be released,” Mannis said. “We provide spirituality and someone to talk to about the Bible and help with the legal system.”
Rev, Mannis also said of legal services provided by the Outdoor Church of Cambridge, “We provide important outreach services for the homeless other than food and clothes. I am an attorney providing pro bono legal services for men and women on the street and at Cambridge shelters.”
In addition to going to prisons they also go to the local Cambridge hospitals; visiting people who have gone to one of our two pastoral services and who have been hurt or fallen ill. “The people that we visit in the hospital are glad to see a concerned visitor,” said Mannis.
Families may also contact the Cambridge Outdoor Church to locate a teenager who is reported missing and cannot be found.
“Families contact us because we work with the homeless and street people, and we’re maybe told important information that the police do not have access to,” Rev. Mannis said. “Many people trust us and provide us important information about what is going on in the street.”
Rev. Mannis continued, “The local administration of the city has been very receptive to our work and mission. We are out on the street regularly and are a good source of information about what is happening to people. We help make service to people in need and keep abreast of everything the city has to offer. We do something that the city cannot offer – spirituality and helping the homeless. The city government and the Cambridge Outdoor Church complement each other.”
For more information about the Cambridge Outdoor Church, visit

Robert Sondak has a Bachelors degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston, College of Public and Community Service (CPCS). Robert also minored in planning and advocacy.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.