The following is a Christian Work Project sponsored in part by a grant from the Boston Baptist Social Union.
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 made more than 100 separate visits to more than 60 congregants. We held 4 memorial services on behalf of those of our congregants who died this past year. We will continue to work closely with shelters and other social service facilities and programs and distribute waistbands with our name and telephone number, so that our congregants can contact us if they are hospitalized or incarcerated.
Increasingly, feeding the chronically homeless men and women we encounter has always been at the center of our ministry. So far as we know, no other meal is served outdoors for homeless men and women in Cambridge over the weekend. Because the need is so great, we are expanding our meals program to include Saturday night, so that our congregants will have something to eat on both Saturday and Sunday. The program is underway; we expect to have it fully in place by the middle of 2010.
We serve more chronically homeless men and women than last year. in part because of economic conditions and in part because of state across-the-board cutbacks in social and other services. We continue to minister to congregants 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.
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 Cnmbridge to whom we minister.
When our congregants are imprisoning 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 and contact with Cambridge social service agencies. 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 nursers 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.
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.