Monday, May 24, 2010

Common Cathedral

Yesterday some of us from North Street went into the Boston Common to join in with the "Common Cathedral," the worship gathering of Ecclesia Ministries.  In short, Ecclesia Ministries is a church for anyone, but it's a church for the homeless of Boston.  Yesterday, I'd estimate that there were some 50 people who participated in some way, and probably 30-40 of those were homeless or mentally challenged. I had first heard of this gathering of the Table a while back, but determined to join in at some point after reading about it in Bryan Stone's book, Evangelism After Christendom.

This summer, The Remembrance is taking a different schedule, intentionally trying to gather around the Table in atmospheres and situations out of our own understanding and experience (including several times gathering with others).  So we invited the whole church to come in for this gathering.  There were but a handful of us (12).

The experience was as described: like none other than I'd experienced elsewhere.  You can picture it: a group of several dozen (many coming and going at any point) gathered in a sorry circle just in front of the fountain beside the Park Street T Station, with thousands of others on the Common at the same time for all sorts of activities on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.   There were details that I had read about:

  • People walked right through our circle, hardly noticing or caring that we were actually doing something.  (One group of three passed just behind me, and I could audibly hear them mock one of the priests as she talked.)
  • It was quite appropriate that we went on Pentecost Sunday, because there was a number of elements that resonated with that first Christian Pentecost in Acts 2: some indeed appeared to be drunk (and some probably were); there was a certain "order" of chaos (it was obvious that if anything/anyone was in control is wasn't us, one of the priests, or anything but God); I could not understand much of what was being said...yet there was an understanding that when someone was speaking, it was a precious and important thing being said.
  • A wonderful gentleman played what I think was a mandolin and brought a small box of rhythm instruments for others to play.  You will hear much more trained musicians elsewhere, but you may not see such passionate singers in many other places.  We sang well-known songs: Kumbaya, We Shall Overcome, Holy Ground, etc.
And then there were a few things that I didn't expect, but were of note and impacted my experience:
  • During the Prayers of the People, one gentleman walked right through the center of the circle, pulled out a dollar bill, and bought a cigarette from another man.  I tried to imagine this exchange in our services of communion.  One of the obvious goals of Ecclesia Ministries is to very publicly declare to the world that the Table is open to all...wherever they may be at: addicted, confused, sick, misunderstood, broken.  I greatly appreciate this...it's how Christ first invited to the Table (Judas the Betrayer, James & John the Power-Mongers, Peter the Denier, Thomas the Doubter).
  • As we were about to begin receiving the Eucharist, it was obvious that one of the gentlemen in our circle was in need of medical attention.  There were several times that the two priests had to rely upon one another to juggle responsibilities of the service as the other took care of some other need (someone speaking angrily or "too" loudly, etc.).  But this situation was the most obvious.  We actually had to pause what we were doing as they called 911, the Boston Fire & EMS showed up (ever seen an ambulance drive up right next to the Table of Communion?), and carted the man away.  It was my first time there, but I wondered how often this occurs.  :-)
  • During the Eucharist, one of the priests left the circle with the bread to offer to others outside our circle, even if it may have been obvious that they would refuse.  She wasn't pushy - she moved on if it was refused - but the way she offered it even to those who hadn't apparently come to be a part really impacted me.  I'm still processing it.
I'd like to go back again, with more from our church and to reinforce some of the experience to my kids.  I've tried very hard, but somehow the church is still a building to them, rather than the people who gather around Christ.  At one point, Brayden was talking rather loudly, which I don't mind per-say, but it was obvious that his attention wasn't on what was happening.  As I asked him to be a little quieter and to pay attention to what was going on because we were in church, he looked at me and said, "No, we're not!" with a look of confusion on his face.  It was a teaching moment, I suppose and we talked about it again later.

I'm glad for Ecclesia Ministries and their faithful response to fulfilling I Corinthians 12.