We are un–housed and housed people called by God into Christian community and ministry for the purpose of transforming all our lives. We bridge the resources of diverse congregations, living into God's preference for the poor. We give voice to the voiceless, we respect the dignity of every human being, and we see the face of Christ in ourselves and others as we join in outside worship.
common cathedral’s Mission
History & Background on Ecclesia Ministries
In the summer of 1994, the Rev. Deborah W. Little began meeting with homeless people on the streets of Boston, offering sandwiches, friendship, and referrals. From that simple beginning, Ecclesia Ministries has evolved into an ecumenical church community that engages homeless and privileged people, service providers, clergy, seminarians, artists, and professionals of all kinds in activities that work to meet the physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs of homeless people in Boston.
How did I get to the street?… I wanted to learn about God, and I wanted to learn
~ Rev. Debbie Little
Chronically homeless individuals, especially those who suffer from severe mental illness and/or addiction disorders, have a hard time escaping homelessness, finding permanent housing, and reintegrating at some level into community. For these individuals, perception of the world has been impaired by drugs, alcohol, and unsuccessful social experiences. There has been a loss of trust in oneself and others—a basic loss of belief. Reestablishing connection, trust, and belief is the heart of the recovery model of addiction treatment and is important spiritual work that provides successful outcomes for addicts. In the Handbook of Health and Religion (Oxford University Press, 2001), Drs. Harold G. Koenig and Harvey J. Cohen, both Professors of Medicine at Duke University, reviewed more than 1,600 studies, and found that across mental and physical disorders, religious involvement is overwhelmingly associated with positive physical and mental health outcomes.
Ecclesia’s ministers are out on the streets nearly every day of the week offering prayer and companionship, and making referrals to social service agencies. Our weekly outdoor worship service, common cathedral, and mid-week programs, common art, common cinema, as well as our support and reflection groups, continue to provide community, inspiration and healing to thousands of un-housed men and women each year, and our spiritual care program in hospitals and jails allows us to maintain and deepen our connection with vulnerable men and women in need. While we provide a Christian context for our worship and spiritual reflection groups, we are a non-proselytizing ministry, open to broad discussions of belief and belief systems.
Most recently, we have embarked on a new program to accompany and support the newly housed. In the past three years, quite a number of our community has been able to move off the streets. This is a great victory. We have discovered, however, that transitioning into housing is also a time of great danger for those who have been without a home for many years. Our pilot program, Neighbors at the Table, works in partnership with housing providers to dissolve isolation, garner peer support, and facilitate the success of newly-housed people through on-site, spiritually grounded community meals.
Ecclesia Ministries is in the unique position – because of our relationship and reputation with residents of Boston’s streets and shelters, as well as with the other organizations that serve them – to be able to accompany and to provide these men and women with spiritual support throughout this very difficult time of transition. Our goal is to help formerly homeless people overcome the spiritual challenges they face – isolation and survivor guilt, as well as lack of hope, self-worth and meaning in their lives. Visiting recently housed men and women in or near their new residence is a vital support in their courageous walk toward independence and freedom from fear.
Street Ministry is often the way we first meet those in need. Ecclesia ministers spend hours each week sitting with and listening to un-housed men and women on the streets. We never know where we will end up when we set off in the morning. Shop doorways, disused wharves, benches and sidewalks are frequent locales but so are coffee shops, train stations and the back pews of churches. We are able, often, to direct people to resources that will meet most immediate needs such as food, blankets, and emergency medical referrals. We also work closely with medical, mental-health and housing outreach workers to better serve these needs in the long-term. The main thing we do during street ministry, however, is accompany those in pain. Sitting with people for hours and hours over days and days, and listening deeply to the stories they chose to tell us, births a process of deep-rooted healing that is hard to ignite any other way.
Common cathedral is the heart of Ecclesia Ministries. It is our church - and it takes place outdoors on the Boston Common at 1:00 pm every Sunday, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Roughly 100 people gather at the now defunct (but still beautiful) Brewer Fountain for worship each week. While most of our congregation is homeless, many who call our church home are also professors, business people, clergy, students, care-givers and professionals. Most weeks, members of suburban parishes from across New England join us as well. Together we sing and pray, reflect on the Gospel and break bread. This diverse and supportive spiritual community provides the basis from which many garner the strength and hope necessary to soften hearts, counter despair, and make
Common art is a place where all are welcome to renew themselves in a safe, supportive and welcoming environment. And it is a place where, every Wednesday between 10am and 2pm, beauty is made. It is extraordinary to walk into the Parish Hall of Emmanuel Church and see all that goes on there each week. With guidance from professional artists in residence, common art is not a place of 'make-work' but of real beauty making ñ and all are invited share in it. With the help of Emmanuel Church who donates the space for free, Ecclesia has maintained common art as an open art studio for poor and un-housed people for more than ten years. Many participants have been able to earn much needed income through the sale of their work - a process facilitated by our clergy and staff. Others have found that art-making helps them to express that which is harder to get at with words, but is a portal to the kind of self-encounter that often leads to a vital spiritual experience, one from which belief in lifeís value can take root. Ecclesia provides all the art materials, and the quality artistic and pastoral support which ensures each participant's potential is nurtured and encouraged.
The CityReach program, an overnight urban outreach program offered several times per year, educates young people and adults about homelessness. Such weekends offer an important opportunity for suburban youth and adults to gain first-hand experience with homeless persons. Approximately 100 participants arrive at St. Paulís Cathedral on Tremont Street in Boston on Friday night. There, they meet teachers who are themselves homeless, and together they walk through the city guided by these members of common cathedral. Following this walk, they share a liturgy and then sleep in the Cathedral sanctuary. On Saturday morning, CityReach participants offer clothing and a simple meal to poor and homeless guests at St. Paulís. Participants also form teams, which then go out to offer sandwiches and clothes to people at South Station, Copley Square, and other sites. On Saturday afternoon, they reflect upon their experiences and prepare presentations that will become part of the worship service upon their return to home churches.
Spiritual Care in Hospitals and Institutions
Ecclesia has created and sustained a Spiritual Care program at the Barbara McInnis House, a respite care facility of Boston Healthcare for the Homeless. Ministers and volunteers offer the human connection that vulnerable, lonely men and women need to heal and, too often, to die with dignity, love, respect, and companionship. Ecclesia also visits those in area hospitals and jails who have no one to visit or offer spiritual support.
Support and Reflection Groups
Throughout the week, Ecclesia offers small group meetings for support and uplift. Each Sunday, after common cathedral, members gather for reflection on the day’s Gospel in a warm room provided by St. Paul's Cathedral. Each Monday, after the lunch at St. Paul’s, and after the Eucharist and Healing service, members gather for a Homeless AA meeting.
Spiritual Support of Formerly Homeless / Newly Housed People
In the past few years, due to the adoption of a Housing First strategy by many government and private agencies, more than 350 people in Boston who had been homeless for many years, are now living in rooms or apartments. This is great news! And, it is proving to be a very difficult transition for many. Ecclesia Ministries is partnering with The Pine Street Inn's Paul Sullivan Housing division to help deal with the spiritual issues of isolation, “survivor guilt”, and the search for meaning and purpose in newly recovered lives. In addition, Ecclesia has been named Spiritual Support provider to the Home and Healthy for Good program of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance.
Training of College and Seminary Interns
Ecclesia Ministries supervises seminarians and other regular volunteers, as well as several hundred people from churches and organizations who volunteer in various capacities throughout the year. Students fulfilling community service requirements have designed programs of learning; adults and teens have created summer internships in our ministries. In addition, each year Ecclesia supervises at least one seminarian from divinity schools in the Greater Boston area, including Episcopal Divinity School, Boston University, Harvard Divinity School, Andover-Newton, and the Micah Fellows program. These interns are trained in all aspects of our spiritual support and programs.
Target Population, Demographics, and Geographical Community Served
The number of people who are homeless in Boston has increased exponentially over the last ten years. The December 2010 street census conducted by the Mayor’s Office counted 7,374 men, women, and children living outside or in shelters in Boston. Homeless men account for the largest percentage of the population; more than half have a chronic disability such as mental illness and/or substance addiction.
Ecclesia serves two distinct constituencies. Our primary focus rests always with the chronically un-housed adults of Boston; men and women who lived on the streets or in shelters, and have done so for many years. About 75 percent of our community is male with highly diverse racial profiles (25% African American; 12% Latino). More than 17% are over 55 years old; 15% Veterans; at least 12% have a substance abuse history; and more than 6% are LGBT. And now we have expanded our focus to include formerly homeless people who have been recently established in housing.
Our secondary ministry is to individuals, schools, churches and other organizations that seek to become more involved with un-housed people. The majority of our programs are open to all who wish to participate, creating a stimulating and life-giving mix of gender, race, age, economics, education, and sexual orientation. Volunteers from all walks of life are able to work with us in the Barbara McGinnis House, a respite care facility of Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, and to join with us at worship, and during our weekly programming. In addition, our CityReach program offers young people the opportunity to learn, first hand and close up, what it means to be poor and homeless in a contemporary urban setting.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Ecclesia Ministries constantly evaluates its activities for effectiveness in serving un-housed people, and for their role in establishing relationships with parishes and individuals who seek opportunities to live out their Baptismal Covenant. Our tools for evaluation include: questionnaires to program participants and volunteers, feedback sessions, and self-studies in retreats.
Chronically homeless people – the people with whom we work most often - continue to have the hardest time escaping homelessness, finding permanent housing, and reintegrating into community. For these individuals, perception of the world has been impaired by drugs, alcohol, unsuccessful social experiences, and, all too often, diagnosable mental illnesses. There has been a loss of trust in themselves and others – a basic loss of belief. Reestablishing connection, trust, and belief is the heart of what we do as an ecumenical, Christian community.
We struggle to find meaningful indicators that can be reliably accessed in a population that is in flux. The very reasons that keep people homeless are the same reasons that make them hard to track. In addition, “home” and “homeless” are concepts that have more gray areas than they do static dividing lines, and encompass issues of identity, belonging, safety and real or imagined security. It’s difficult to concretize much of our success as the process of helping someone to rebuild their self-worth, to have a sense of meaning in their lives, and a sense of belonging in the world is very complex. A necessary component is a physical home, but so much more is involved.
We have numerous anecdotal reports of the impact that Ecclesia Ministries has made on peoples’ lives – stories of reuniting with families, recovery from addiction, healing from grief and illness, and re-entry into the world of work and college studies.
Ecclesia Ministries is an independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, and it is not directly financed by any religious denomination's governing body. We rely on the generosity of congregations, individuals, and a few foundations for support. Please see our most recent Annual Report for more information.
We would be grateful for your gift. Please call the Rev. Kathy McAdams at 617-347-8582 to discuss making an ongoing pledge or remembering Ecclesia Ministries in your will.
Ecclesia Ministries' Board of Directors
The Rev. Stephen Voysey, Chairperson
Mr. Robert Bower, Treasurer
The Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor, Secretary
Mr. Bryan Becker
Rev. Nick Carter
Ms. Sarah "Sally" Wheatland Fisher
Mr. Julian Fredie
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
Mr. Donald Hooks
Dr. Debra Leonard