EXIT THE PARK STREET T stop in Boston on a Sunday afternoon. Turn your back on the spire of the historic Park Street Church, and you’re apt to see a circle of people—mostly homeless women and men, along with visitors from various walks of life—singing. In the center of the circle is an altar. This is Common Cathedral, an outdoor “street church.” Each Sunday at 1 p.m., in sunshine, rain, or snow, people gather, 50 to 100 strong, next to Brewer Fountain on Boston Common. There, they witness love in a church without walls.
Since the church’s founder, Episcopal priest Deborah Little, first celebrated and shared Communion with a handful of “unhoused” men and women on the Common on Easter 1996, thousands have stood in that circle: sisters and brothers from the streets, visiting guests from suburban churches, seminarians, curious tourists, and others. From the passion and calling of one woman of faith who wanted to do church differently, Common Cathedral and the larger organization to which it belongs, Ecclesia Ministries, have grown to an international movement. Ecclesia has helped inspire more than 200 street ministries with outdoor congregations all around the U.S. and as far as Brazil, Australia, and England.
The fact that most people haven’t heard of Common Cathedral, Ecclesia Ministries, or Deborah Little may be a sign of bad marketing—or one of the great gifts of this movement and its founder.