A short time back during one of my lunchtime bike rides I found myself in Franklin Square Park (MAP) enjoying some take-out from a favorite downtown eatery located across the street from the park, Soho Café & Market. It was a particularly warm day and, as I was enjoying some cold pasta salad, I watched a group of people who were gathered near the fountain situated in the main plaza in the middle of the park. After watching them for a while I figured out what the gathering was. So I chose to join them.
The group of people turned out to be a congregation. And the gathering was a “Street Church” service, which is an outreach and social justice ministry of the Church of the Epiphany. I had previously visited and wrote about the church in this blog. And I even knew about the Street Church ministry. But attending the service that day was the first time I got to experience it for myself.
Street Church takes place in the park every Tuesday, from 1:00pm to 1:30pm. The service, which is part of the Ecclesia Ministries network which began with Common Cathedral in Boston, includes singing, prayer, participative preaching, and the administration of the Eucharist. The congregation usually includes approximately 30 to 50 downtown poor, as well as church volunteers and other various visitors and passersby, like me. The mission of Street Church is to build a diverse and inclusive community, worship as one, and give and receive the love of Christ.
Street Church’s mission also includes feeding the hungry. So the service is followed by lunch in the park, consisting of sandwiches and lunches assembled by a group of volunteers in the church’s kitchen. This seems particularly relevant to me because it reminds me of something one of my theology professors back in college used to say. I remember him saying, “It’s more difficult to feed someone’s soul when that person does not have enough food to feed their body.”
Not only did I enjoy my first experience at Street Church, it also came at a very meaningful time for me. At the end of the service, the priest invited people to come forward to an area near one of the park’s gigantic trees if they wished to receive a healing prayer. And it just so happened to be the area was where I already was standing. Then, as she very politely began to ask me to make room for those who were going to be coming forward, I told her that I was there to pray with her. I told her how I had been diagnosed with cancer last fall, and how I had been to my oncologist a few days prior for a follow up, and that I was a little anxious about the results I was scheduled to receive the next day. So we prayed together before I left. And I am now happy to be able to report that I remain cancer free.
I have gone back to Street Church a few times since that first encounter. And I plan to continue to attend when I am able to. Someday soon I would also like to join in with their regular volunteers in the Epiphany kitchen and help prepare the lunches brought to and served in the park. In addition to a core of volunteers who come on a regular basis, they welcome any volunteer who would like to participate in this ministry. They also offer the opportunity to volunteer in the park, spending time and being in relationship with the downtown poor through worship, lunch, and conversation.
Another meaningful volunteer experience at Street Church is becoming a Street Church Partner. By becoming a Street Church Partner, youth and adult groups are able to participate in social justice ministries with the downtown poor and to allow this experience to deepen their faith journeys. Street Church Partners participate in the full schedule of preparing lunch, participating and serving in the park, plus orientation beforehand and spiritual reflection afterward. Street Church Partners also contribute to the cost of the Street Church lunch on their day.
Since all are welcome, I feel confident speaking on behalf of Street Church in inviting everyone to participate, whether it’s through attending, volunteering, or contributing financially to the cost of providing the food that accompanies the spiritual nourishment that Street Church provides. Or if you don’t live in the D.C. area or are otherwise unable to be part of Street Church, I would encourage you to seek out something similar wherever you are.
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]
NOTE: The service in the park and the downtown poor who attend remind me of a story about a church. However, the church in the story is nothing like Street Church. The story goes something like this.
One Sunday morning an old man entered a church just before services were to begin. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, he wore an old and faded pair of slacks, a plain shirt without a collar, and a pair of shoes that were appeared worn and ragged and had paper-thin soles. And in his hand he carried a worn out old hat, and a equally worn out Bible.
The church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was one of the oldest, largest and most beautiful churches the old man had ever seen. And the people of the congregation were all dressed in expensive clothes and accessories.
As he took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to or welcomed him. They were all appalled at his appearance and did not attempt to hide it.
After the service as he was leaving the church, the priest approached him and asked the man to do him a favor: “Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.” The old man assured the preacher he would.
But the next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged clothes, shoes and and hat. Once again he was completely shunned and ignored. The priest approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church.”
“I did,” replied the old man.
“If you spoke to God, what did he tell you proper attire should be for worshiping in here?” asked the priest.
“Well, sir, God told me that He didn’t have a clue what I should wear. He said He’d never been in here before.”