A Church Without a Building Meets the Homeless Right Where They Are

Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

Ecclesia Ministries, is an ecumenical urban church without a building that helps to transform the lives of Boston’s homeless and low-income people through a series of weekly church and social service programs. Its mission is to take the gifts of church out to people who cannot, for whatever reason, come in to receive them.

Ecclesia Ministries helps build relationships with Boston’s homeless and sheltered men and women to overcome the spiritual challenges they face like isolation, guilt, the lack of hope, self-worth, and meaning in their daily lives.

According to the Rev. Kathy McAdams, Executive Director of Ecclesia Ministries, the church runs three foundation programs for Boston ‘s homeless and low-income people. They are Common Cathedral, the outdoor worship service on Boston Common; the street ministries; and Common Art artist gallery.

Ecclesia Ministries runs an outdoor worship service on the Boston Common commonly referred to as Common Cathedral. Common Cathedral represents the heart of ministry, a church for all people of all walks of life. Approximately 100 people gather at the defunct Brewer Fountain just north of the MBTA Park Street Station every Sunday at 1:00 pm. rain or shine, sleet or snow, for a worship each week.

The congregation is a mix of homeless people along with business people, clergy, students, caregivers and professionals. The congregation is usually joined by members of church parishes from across New England, who help to lead in singing and prayer, reflect on the Gospel and breaking bread. This diverse community helps build strength and hope necessary to reinforce a positive outlook on life necessary to soften hearts.
McAdams pointed out that the Sunday worship is lead by a variety of staff and the community and just celebrated its 18 birthday.

“Three ministers help lead the Sunday service,” McAdams said. “Seminary interns help the members to follow the prayer and community people make the reflections.”

McAdams highlighted that membership in the worship service has been up and down over the past year.

“Common Cathedral membership has dropped over the past year due to construction on the Boston Common,” McAdams said. “Members are starting to come back since the park construction has ended.”

Ecclesia Ministries facilitates street ministries every day of the week. The street ministries offer prayer and companionship to the homeless and low-income community. The street ministries direct people to resources that will meet most immediate needs such as food, blankets, and emergency medical referrals. They work closely with medical, mental health and housing outreach workers to better serve these needs in the long-term.

The ministries sit with people and accompany people to appointments. They also make referrals to social service agencies. These ministries were established by the Rev. Dr. Deborah Little in 1994 and are now entering their second decade.
“The street ministries help people in need or who are struggling in their life,” McAdams said. “We help accompany people in pain.”

On Wednesdays people gather for the artist gallery called Common Art at Emmanuel Church. Common Art represents an open art studio for homeless and low-income people living in Boston. Common Art has been run for the past 16 years. Common Art has two goals, a therapy or way to express what may be difficult to express in words, and a way to produce artwork which can be sold for extra income.

Common Art allows 40 to 50 members to produce artwork that can be sold with the assistance of the clergy and organization staff. Common Art sets up a gallery display located in the sunny weather just outside Emmanuel Church. In cold or rainy weather the gallery display is set up in Gridwall Gallery at Emmanuel Church.

“The public is welcomed to an outdoor and inside display of member artwork as well as the gallery itself each week,” said Mary Jane Eaton, Director of Common Art. The artist gallery runs between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Eaton highlighted the format of the gallery.
“The gallery helps to display artist work for the public to see,” Eaton said. “The gallery displays acrylic painting, stained glass, jewelry and knitting.”

Eaton commented that the art studio has a variety of visitors. Art studio visitors include gallery-art people, tourists, the Newbury Street community, and program supporters. Each visitor is greeted by staff and the artist.
Ady, a member of Common Art, elaborated that she produces acrylic rather than oil painting because it is fast drying. She said oils are very messy, harder to clean up and take time to dry.
“It is good that someone is writing about Common Art,” Ady said. “The program needs exposure.”

Ady elaborated further about Common Art.

“Common Art is a great place for people to create artistic expression,” Ady said. “It is good to see local people support Common Art.”

Little, founder of Ecclesia Ministries, has helped to start a series of street ministries nationally. Locally Ecclesia Ministries has helped create affiliate ministries in Worcester, The Worcester Fellowship; Portland Maine, The Grace Street Ministry; and New Haven, Ct., The Chapel on the Green. Every October groups gather for a weekend conference called Common C. In 2011 the nationally Common C weekend took place in Atlanta.

ROBERT SONDAK is a Spare Change News writer and vendor. Robert has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston, College of Public and Community Service, (CPCS). Robert also minored in Urban Planning and Advocacy. Currently Robert is the Executive Director of the Nutrition Education Outreach Project http;//neopneopt.blogspot.com.

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

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