6 Ideas for Taking the Church to the Streets

Happy Easter! It always feels so good to enter into this season of Easter. That’s not to say that this last Lenten season was not powerful. It most certainly was! In fact, as most of our readers know, it started off powerful with Ashes-to-Go on Ash Wednesday. For the uninitiated, Ashes-to-Go is a movement that has spread across North America in which Christians take the imposition of ashes out into their neighborhoods on Ash Wednesday. This last Ash Wednesday, 35 congregations from across our diocese took part in this emerging tradition.

As we moved into the Lenten season the resounding question from across the diocese was, “What next?” It has increasingly become clear that this annual effort is only the beginning for many congregations. This experience of being with, and touching, our neighbors has increased our desire to be present with our communities, share our traditions–indeed, share the Good News!–and make the Church more accessible to the spiritual seekers we are surrounded by.

In response to this renewed, evangelistic fervor, our Diocesan team started asking what others were trying out. What we found were a variety of ideas, for Lent and throughout the year. Here are six of the ideas we discovered:

  1. Palm Sunday Procession & Coffee: On Palm Sunday, St. Paul’s, K Street partnered with other churches in their neighborhood for a palm blessing liturgy and procession. But before the liturgy, St. Paul’s set up a table on the square near their parish to hand out palms and free coffee, which is a great way to get neighbors involved in this tradition rather than just be empty-handed spectators or passersby. (Photo by Janet Wamsley)
  2. Maundy Thursday Handwashing: On Holy Thursday, the Episcopal Campus Ministry at University of Maryland, College Park set up a table in front of the student center with free food and an opportunity to have your hands washed, and wash the hands of another. Students and campus minister Rev. Otis Gaddis III shared the story of the last supper with students and then invited them participate in this meaningful and vulnerable practice.
  3. Good Friday Prayer Station: Remembering the suffering of our Savior on this day, members of St. Thomas set up prayer stations at Dupont Circle and offered prayers for anyone who wished. With simple sandwich board signs and a friendly dog, whom folks were eager to greet, they shared with those passing by what church they were from, the meaning of Good Friday and invited neighbors to receive prayers.
  4. Flash Compline: In the Diocese of Southern Ohio, several churches around Cincinnati organized public expressions of this brief, evening prayer. Each Sunday night, a few minutes before 8pm, people gather in a public place. With a world still busy around them they light incense (and sparklers) as the sun begins to set. 
  5. Blessings to Go: May 1 is the National Day of Prayer. On that day, congregations across theDiocese of Newark will take a different spin on Ashes-to-Go. Instead of ashes, participants will use oil, an ancient sign of anointing and healing in a public place in their community.
  6. Sing and Dance!: Remember caroling? Of course, you do! Some parishes in our Diocese have started caroling in their neighborhoods, inviting listeners to join them as they move throughout the community. But this isn’t limited to the Advent season. On Mardi Gras, Epiphany Church took to the streets with singing and dancing. By the time they returned to their parish hall, they gained a few people who had joined in along the way.

As warmer months arrive, there are even more opportunities to take our congregational traditions into the community. Some will be hosting Vacation Bible School in neighborhood parks. Some are finding ways to be present at their community farmers markets. Chances are, you have ideas that haven’t been attempted yet–or at least in a long time. We’re eager to know what you discover as you try. So, don’t forget to share your photos and stories with us here at Church House!

Live Now, Serve Now: Youth and Family Service Day

“Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: ‘Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.’” -Matthew 10:5-8 (MSG)

If you passed by the Cathedral on Friday, April 4, 2014 after 7:30pm, you would have seen space marked off, tents pitched and cardboard boxes assembled outside on the west lawn. On Friday night, youth and their leaders camped outside to explore what it is like to live outside for one night, as some of our brothers and sisters do every night. This was only a start to 20 hours of experiencing and learning what it means to be the “harvest hands” in our community and in our world.

We gathered together in St. Alban’s Parish, Nourse Hall, where Mr. Micheal Lawyer, the Rev. Cara Spaccarelli, and small group leaders led large and small groups in talking, singing, praying, and exploring where God might be calling us to serve in our own communities. This call, they reminded us, might be uncomfortable, but calls us into a deeper relationship with Christ and others.

Following Eucharist on Saturday morning, we were split up into different groups and went out into Washington, DC to serve 5 locations in our community: Epiphany Mission Center, Grace Table Georgetown, Seabury Age-in-Place (two locations), and Capital Hill Group Ministry. Throughout the city, we served meals, invited people to Sunday morning Welcome Table at Church of the Epiphany, pruned trees, cut down shrubs, prayed with people outside Union Station, and taught arts and crafts.

We returned from our service sites with so many stories to share. We debriefed on what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world and how we can continuously love our neighbors as ourselves.

Thanks to the youth, youth leaders, families and committee members who participated in sharing Christ’s light in DC through the Youth and Family Service Day.

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours God, help us to live now and serve now! Amen. -St. Teresa of Avila