Many of you will know that the word “Ecclesia” or “Ekklesia” in Greek basically translates to “church.” Marble has participated in the Ecclesia NY Ministry for more than 5 years, helping to host a “street church” in Madison Square Park along with several other Manhattan congregations of various denominations. Some may wonder why we do this, and what it is all about!
The Ecclesia Ministry and Common Cathedral originally began as a street ministry in 1994 in Boston. The ministry began with one minister hanging out on park benches, meeting and praying with people. This grew to include an outdoor church, pastoral care in hospitals, Bible studies, and many other aspects of church. Since 2001, some 80 cities in the US, Brazil, and the UK are offering their own versions of street ministry. The Boston ministry and many others are also engaged in outreach to traditional churches, schools, seminaries and others wanting to visit, volunteer or do supervised learning programs with homeless communities. The founder of Ecclesia Ministry, The Rev. Dr. Debbie Little Wyman, found that not everyone can come inside for what churches uniquely offer - community, friendship, and blessing. Mental and physical disabilities, as well as past hurtful experiences with indoor churches, prevent many to come inside for church or other resources. Therefore, we must seek to take the church outside. Ecclesia Ministries describes their work in the following way:
“Chronically homeless 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.”
This Easter Sunday, it is Marble’s turn to host Ecclesia. At the service, we have 2 meals – the holy meal of Communion, followed by an equally holy meal of bagged lunches for those people (often homeless or otherwise disadvantage adults) who come to the service. You can join us at 9:30 am at Marble to prepare the lunches as well as gift bags for Easter. But please consider joining us at 1:30 to walk over to the park. The service begins at 2:00 and it is the best part! Our own Rev. Kirsty DePree will be guest presiding, and together we can help spread the joy of Easter beyond the walls of Marble to those who may not otherwise experience it.
The first time I attended an Ecclesia service was in 2008, and I was incredibly out of my comfort zone. The idea of expressing my faith in a public park was uncomfortable – we were singing hymns and spirituals at the top of our lungs with no accompaniment and praying loudly. When it came time to pass the peace, I immediately feared shaking hands with the “dirty homeless people.” Of course, the Holy Spirit worked through me and made me get over myself! Over time, I’d be hugging my brothers and sisters in the park (while always keeping some hand sanitizer with me, of course). Over time, as the park has gentrified, we’ve competed with the line at Shake Shack, and the congregation of Ecclesia has shifted and changed. The goal of this ministry is not to “rescue” anyone. We are not able to do that. We can’t directly save lives. But we can help save lives. We can do this by sharing our time, our care and our love.
I am grateful to the many Marble volunteers who have participated in Ecclesia, and I especially thank Betty Costa who is the Marble Action Committee Ecclesia captain. If you have not yet experienced Ecclesia, I invite you to join us at 2:00 pm this Easter Sunday, or any other second Sunday of every month. Help us to reach out and bring the gifts of the church and the joy of the Resurrection beyond the walls of Marble!