The following is a Christian Work Project sponsored in part by a grant from the Boston Baptist Social Union.

The Outdoor Church of Cambridge, Inc.

Mission and Purpose

The Outdoor Church is an outdoor church in Cambridge, Massachusetts,  in which ordained and lay clergy provide pastoral and material care to homeless men and women of Cambridge who are outdoors most, if not all, of the time. Because we are outdoors, we have access to and can serve men and women who, because of shame or embarrassment, hostility or indifference, cannot or will not attend conventional church services nor avail themselves of the many programs and services offered by private and public institutions and agencies in Cambridge.

In the last year, we extended the reach of our pastoral visiting program to hospitals, jails, prisons, shelters, psychiatric wards, detox programs and other institutions. In the past twelve months, we made 92 separate visits to more than 50 congregants, and held 5 memorial services. We will continue to work closely with shelters and other social service facilities and programs and distribute wristbands with our name and telephone number, so that our congregants can contact us if they are hospitalized or incarcerated.

However, we are now serving more chronically homeless men and women than last year in part because of economic conditions and in part because, by word of mouth and otherwise, more homeless men and women are aware of our presence on the streets of Cambridge. Accordingly, we now minister to more homeless men and women than before who are serving long prison sentences, are in jail or other detention facilities, are incarcerated in a DMH facility or are in an acute care medical facility. Others are temporarily absent because of arrests, emergency hospitalizations and involuntary commitments. It is essential to the increased number of chronically homeless people in need of pastoral attention that we continue to visit them on a regular basis, and that we increase the number of visits that we make to each of them, so that they remain members of our worshipping community.

The Program

We want to continue and expand our outreach program to chronically homeless men and women in Cambridge who are confined in hospitals, prisons, jails and other institutions. We want to make visits to an increasing number of homeless men and women who need pastoral attention, we want to make more pastoral visits to each of them and we want to involve more staff, volunteers, interns and seminarians in our visiting program. Your support will help us pay for stipends for two clergy and one part-time staff person who will make those pastoral visits and who will work with the social workers, chaplains and other staff at such institutions who care for the chronically homeless in Cambridge to whom we minister.

When our congregants are imprisoned, hospitalized or otherwise off the street and away from us for extended periods, it is crucial that we be able to continue and strengthen our relationships with them. We - and they - are concerned that they will no longer be part of a community in which they feel safe and which provides them with nonjudgmental spiritual and material support. This support includes regular communication with friends and family, contact with Cambridge social service agencies and pro bono legal and other essential services. If we can continue to serve our congregants while they are confined in institutions, there is a much greater likelihood that all the good we have done them will not evaporate. We can help them deal successfully with those institutions and assist the nurses, chaplains, social workers and others who are charged with their care. When they are ready to be released, we can help them prepare for life outdoors and connect them with the many Cambridge service providers who can help them when they return to the streets. While homeless men and women will continue to join, leave and rejoin us outdoors depending on the terms and length of their confinement, they will always rightly believe that they are still members of the only spiritual community in which they can enjoy any degree of support and safety.

With your support, we have dramatically expanded our program of pastoral visiting this year. During this past year, we have been able to focus on two different kinds of pastoral visiting: visits to chronically homeless people who are in a hospital, jail, prison or psychiatric ward for a short period of time, typically one or two weeks; and visits to chronically homeless people who will be incarcerated for a long period of time, either because of a long prison sentence or because of chronic medical or psychiatric problems. The first calls for many visits by many people over a short period of time; the second requires the continuing attention and visiting of one or two dedicated people over a long period of time. Our growing appreciation of the different pastoral needs of our congregants will allow us to increase the number and frequency of our pastoral visits by more efficiently deploying our staff resources.

We continue to encourage our interns and seminarians to join us in these visits and to cultivate relationships with hospital chaplains, social workers, nurses and institutional caregivers to help our congregants while they are confined. At the same time, other homeless people who are also confined but not already members of  our church have been drawn to participate in our ministry.

People Served

We have just concluded twelve months of an augmented program of pastoral visiting to hospitals, jails, rehab facilities, prisons and other institutions in which our congregants have been confined. During this twelve month period, we made 92 visits to more than 50 people. Most of these pastoral visits were to 240 Albany Street a "wet" shelter near MIT, and to hospitals, usually Cambridge City Hospital.

The Outdoor Church serves chronically homeless men and women in Cambridge and the surrounding area, approximately two thirds of whom are men. Ages range from sixteen to eighty. The younger homeless people have often recently run away from home and come from varied ethnic and economic backgrounds. This population is transient and changes almost daily, especially during the summer. The older homeless people have usually been on the street in Cambridge or Boston for an extended period of time and are uniformly impoverished and in poor health. Almost all of the people we will serving through this program are substance abusers, mentally unstable or - particularly men - both. To date, the Outdoor Church has reached more than 250 chronically homeless men and women and provided them with pastoral services, including prayer, meals, clothing and pro bono legal services.

During 2008, the Outdoor Church has ministered to eighty to ninety homeless men and women on the streets of Cambridge, and entails, hospitals, detox centers, prisons and shelters. The number of people we see every week varies with the weather and the time of month (social security checks run out toward the end of the month.) At any given times fifteen to twenty of the people we consider to be members of our church are confined to an institution.

During the past twelve months, we have made 92 pastoral visits, including memorial services. We expect to increase the number of pastoral visits we make in 2009 by more than 50%:

Visiting Site

No. of Visits
12 mos. 2008

No. of Visits
12 mos. 2009
Jail(2) 8 10
Prison(2) 10 20
Hospitals(3) 11 20
Rehab facility(1) 6 10
Shelters(2) 52 80
Memorial Services(1) 5 5
Total 92 145

This year, in addition to our ordained clergy, we have two seminarians available to us for, among other things, further expansion of our visiting program. We will also enrich our pastoral visiting program by helping people prepare for their release from the institution where they are confined and by directing them to the services they will need to avoid, if at all possible, returning to the street. While the City of Cambridge provides an extraordinary array of social services for people who are homeless or who are at risk of homelessness, these services are not available or accessible to people who are confined to institutions. Our visits will increasingly focus on helping people avoid the street when they regain their freedom.