Advent reflection: 'Christmas with the Homeless'

December 02, 2015

“They (the homeless) sit in more darkness than we would ever want to know – and they are looking for their light just like we are.” – Carolyn Frantz, an Outdoor Church volunteer, from a book of 12 Advent reflections titled “Christmas with the Homeless”

Outdoor Church is an ecumenical Christian church for homeless housed at Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, MA. About 40 other churches are also part of the ministry.
Founded in 2003, the Outdoor Church offers weekly outdoor worship services and street outreach ministries – including distributing sandwiches and drinks on weekends when many shelters and feeding programs are closed.
Lane Lambert is among the members of Harvard-Epworth who volunteer with the sandwich ministry on the third Saturday of each month. Church volunteers
Christmas with the Homeless

Click the link to see a PDF version of “Christmas with the Homeless.”

A printable version is available at the Outdoor Church website:
make 80-100 sandwiches; there’s a core group of about six volunteers that distribute the sandwiches, usually 40-50 on a Saturday. The remainder are passed out the next day by other Outdoor Church volunteers.
The idea of creating a book of reflections about their ministry with the homeless came up this fall.
“We said, ‘why don't we put together some reflections from our own experiences?’” Lambert said, and they decided to create a book of Advent reflections titled “Christmas with the Homeless.”
“We were struck, all of us I think, how beforehand, before we started doing this volunteering, how invisible the homeless seemed to everybody and us, too,” Lambert said.
One of the things those on the street appreciate most about the sandwich ministry, Lambert said is “that we recognize them as people.”
Rev. Herb Taylor has been pastor at Harvard-Epworth for about a year and half. He said the sandwich ministry has been a blessing to him in building relationships in the community, and has helped the whole congregation do that as well.
“I think even folks who don't go on the sandwich ministry to deliver (or make the sandwiches) feel that connection and see the homeless population in a different way through the stories that are shared by the volunteers,” Rev. Taylor said. “It connects us not as us/them, but as part of the humanity we all share. It’s an important part of the church and its ministry in ways that go beyond the 100 or so sandwiches. It's a powerful reflection of our call to share not just food but God's love.”
Rev. Taylor said Harvard-Epworth has many young adult members, who are interested in hands-on ministry and “want to be involved and see a church involved in all aspects of ministry: mind, body, and soul.”
Lambert said he thinks he speaks for other volunteers as well as himself when he talks about the effect this ministry has had on him.
“I feel like I live out the gospel faith more with the homeless ministry than anything else I do. I really do,” Lambert said. “It has also widened my sense of who the body of Christ is as much as anything.”
Lambert, a journalist who served as editor on the project, said people chose for themselves what to write. Each piece includes a Scripture passage and closes with a prayer. Among the reflections shared by volunteers and Outdoor Church staff is one by a woman who was once homeless.
Lambert said that he hopes the reflections will help counter some of the commercialism that is so prevalent this time of year. He also hopes people will see “their sisters and brothers on the street in a new way.
Doing this ministry, Lambert said, “you get to know them. It’s not like they sought this out. These are some of the most broken jars of clay in God's kingdom, but they're people.”
“We and all the folks involved have connected with and show honor and respect to folks living on the street, and the reflections are an extension of that,” Rev. Taylor said. “An opportunity for those involved as servers and served to share in a devotional reminds us that when we relate to people in ministry we are serving them in body, mind, and spirit, and this is offering that spiritual dimension.”
“We are all in this together, struggling to find a connection to the Spirit,” he said. “All of us are on a journey (toward) a divine connection – especially as move into Advent and the birth of Jesus.”