Skip to content

Saturday’s post

If I were feeling cheesy, I’d call this “knitting us together”. Knitting is catching on here. Last week, we introduced the idea of knitting a stole as a community project. Several people said no thanks, they didn’t want to put in even a stitch. I have some lovely yarn (Debbie Bliss Rialto, worsted weight, 100% merino superwash, for those who care); it feels lovely, it knits up beautifully, is firm enough not to be splitty, and smooshy enough that I think it will forgive uneven knitters. (I know, more than you needed to know about yarn). I started on a square, figuring out gauge (on #6 US needles, 30 stitches=6inches). A couple people came over to look, and ask about it-this yarn, I explain, is for a stole for the priest for common cathedral in the winter; we have a suitcase full of other yarn you can use for anything you like. A bit later E. came, three bags full of various projects. She does baby blankets, the latest here:And had some questions about a project she has the yarn for, has started several times, but hasn’t been able to figure out the instructions. She handed them over. It’s a gorgeous project, a knitted Aran bedspread, intended to be 64″x68″ finished. The pattern for the sections (good news: it’s knit in strips and then joined; bad news: there are 5 strips) is charted, not written out. So I had said I could help her with it, write it out. She explained she was late because she had unexpectedly had a meeting at her church to talk about ministry to military and their families; she has a son in service. We went on to talk about the stole, measurements, etc. At the end of the day, she asked if she could take some of the stole wool home to work on. Sure, I said.

As we cleaned up, there was some concern: did E. understand that that wool was for this project, not to absorb into her own projects? Have I been had? (I wonder, as I think about translating 1/3 page of knitting chart into written instructions). But, wool is replaceable, and we’d talked about it as for the stole squares. I went back to the apartment and labored on the pattern, deciding how to lay it out (I’ll spare the technical stuff), double-checking that I was accurate. I got about 2 rows done and turned in, a bit discouraged about it all.



Next day-rushing off to the ecclesia office for a meeting I’d forgotten about, I met E. coming into the Arlington St. station as I was coming out of it. Pleased recognition, and she pulled out of her bag six different blocks for the stole. Some are square, some rectangles; that’s what I’d hoped for, that we’d have some variation. I showed them off at the end of the meeting; everyone is pleased and agrees we’re creating something beautiful and which will be used.

So last night, I sat down and got back to work on that pattern. E. had said she thought she could do most of it; there was one section she didn’t understand and would particularly like help with. So I tackled that one. I couldn’t make it work, either, just copying the chart; the stitch numbers didn’t add up. I tried knitting it, and got the same problem. Perhaps it’s an error in the pattern? Such things happen. So back to paper and pencil and knitting trials, and I think I’ve got it:

So I now have 1/2 of another strip for the stole, a pattern puzzle solved, the directions written out (clearly, I hope). And E. and I will meet after common cathedral to work on it some more. Now I’m going to go post this, and email her the pattern. Then I might just go back to touristing; it’s a good day.



preaching to the choir

Today, I was the preacher for common cathedral. A street church service is very much a liturgy–work of the people. The person appointed to preach does so, briefly; then anyone and everyone comments on the Gospel. The Prayers of the People are just that: people stepping forward with a prayer, a comment, a thanks, ending “Lord in your mercy”; everyone responds “Hear our prayer”. Remarkably, they tend to cover most of the items the rubrics say we need to include: the nation (especially its military overseas), the church, the sick and friendless and those in need. And the Celtics or Red Sox, whichever is playing next.

So today my text was the lectionary Gospel reading: Matthew 6:24-34. It’s from the Sermon on the Mount; it’s the lilies of the field passage. You cannot serve two masters, not both God and wealth; do not be concerned with what you eat, or drink, or with your clothing; worry cannot add an hour to your life; consider the birds who do not store up grain; the lilies who do not spin or weave. Your Father in heaven takes care of them; you are worth more, and he will surely take care of you. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you. And again, don’t worry about tomorrow; today has worry enough.

This is a very famous passage, and one I dreaded talking about to this group. How dare I tell the hungry and homeless not to worry about their next meal? How tell them that they are not to worry about tomorrow? And how do I tell myself any of that–brought up on the ant-and-the-grasshopper, on prudence, on saving and planning ahead?

But I’ve been here most of a month now, and spent a lot of time with Shaggy, and Peter, and Eddie, and Brenda, and Martha, and Amy, and Julie, and Batman, and Chris, and Billy–I could go on. I spent time this morning listening to Frank, telling me that he needed to go to Worcester, that he couldn’t go on like this, that he hadn’t slept for two nights–he walks the streets and keeps his friends safe, calls an ambulance if he has to. He’s a Navy veteran, a SEAL, is disabled, perhaps gets some pension, but doesn’t have housing and doesn’t seem to be on a list to get housing soon. As he told us during Prayers of the People, he started the day with a fifth. But yes, he has hope, always; he wakes up grateful to God to be alive every morning. He accepted a cross and a blessing; he stayed through the service. So I listened, and talked a little, and didn’t review my sermon again.

So Frank saved me from worrying about what I ended up giving to God. And realizing that this is not a hard text here: this congregation has taught me about living today, not worrying too much about tomorrow, getting meals or some clothing today when you can. So I told them that this, written [late 1st century] when the Romans were tearing down housing and pushing people around, told to a people on a hillside and poor, was about putting our deepest need, our relationship with God and therefore with each other as children of God, brothers and sisters, into the center of our lives. That it is about recognizing the kingdom of God on earth when we are in relationship with him and from that, with each other. And, I pointed out, there are no skinny pigeons on Boston Common.

Later, at the end of announcements before communion, Steve called me forward to thank me for the time with the community and asked everyone to come forward to bless me on my way. They all did–those I’ve named and others–held my hands, touched my arms and shoulders. At Steve’s request, Billy said a blessing on behalf of the community. I don’t remember what he said; I remember that it was the most moving blessing I have or may ever experience. The blessing of the community–it was transcendent. I am going to miss them all very much, but now I think I am ready to start building relationships in Iowa City.

I’ll be inviting you to join. And by the way, as I told them this morning, all the pigeons on Boston Common are fat. They assured me the pigeons always will be.

just a picture for now


This is Eucharist ready during the “Nourish Your Spirit” Bible study and Eucharist at the end of common art. Yes, the white cloth under the elements is paper towel. Yes, that’s grape juice and a multi-grain roll. We’re reading through the Gospel of John (the hardest one, as one of the staff noted), but it doesn’t seem hard to this group. More on how they hear Gospel later–today, I’m preaching on Boston Common about the lilies of the field.

after a few days’ silence

One of my astute readers said, I’ve been reading your stuff, and now I understand better what you’re doing, but I don’t know what you’re feeling. Bingo. Kind of like Kathy telling me I need to work from the heart, not the head. I like my head, it’s very comfortable here, mostly.

It has been a little less comfortable today; I’ve been in a funk. This is probably laziness and not to be sympathized with, but there it is. I have some excuses: I’ve had a headache all day, the weather has changed at least twice today, and it’s now rainy and chilly. The houseful of people I’ve enjoyed over the last 3-4 days have left, so I’m by myself again in this decidedly luxurious place. I turned the radio on again, but I didn’t do anything today. Some laundry (should go retrieve the last load from the dryer). Went to lunch with an old friend, Michael K, and gossiped about musical stuff. Once I got back (chilled, lulled by temporary sunshine that we were having another warm day), I went into protracted non-activity. This is just silly. If I got up, my head would ache less and I would warm up, and feel better if I got something done. Eventually — witness, I’m writing this — I did.

I keep telling people I am lazy and don’t do enough, because I know how often I spend time as I did this afternoon instead of doing something. Yes, I get a fair amount done (or done enough that I don’t get in trouble) but I could be doing more. I should be doing more. I would do more, if I got the secret to cutting the funk short and getting on my feet and doing it.

(and I believe I owe Pat’s jar some serious change after that last paragraph of could-have-would-have-should-have’s).

When I was pregnant, a few decades ago, I felt pretty awful most of the time, what with morning sickness and quite likely some depression. I discovered that I didnt feel any better if I talked about it (complained), and that either I got more sympathy than I found helpful, more wrap-you-in-cotton-wool responses, or was told that I did not feel that legitimately because I had wanted the pregnancy, therefore rational response was happiness. I figured out long ago that not all emotion is based on reason, and I do know that emotion is important, that stifling it and not knowing how to deal with it can, in fact, kill you. My choice has been to not have much, not risk much. Despite being told by another of my astute critics that I have no affect, I really do have both emotion and affect, but on deeper things I spend them very sparingly.

I don’t think this is wrong. What would be wrong is if I can’t hear emotion in others, and if I can’t respond to it with the difficult blend of boundary and empathy that all my work takes. I don’t always get that right, and I am not very good at the somewhat different blend that friendship takes. But I can do it, and this month has immersed me in working on it. You all can take bets on how little reformed I’ll be on return.img_0208.jpg

Today’s picture: One I bought from Dennis at common art on Wednesday, and will be bringing to Trinity to see if they’d like to have it. He says it’s copied from a door of St. Mark’s in Venice, which he may have seen in service. I rather doubt that St. Mark’s has a peace sign; Dennis put one in. Just wait till you see it in the canvas; it’s spectacular.

NOTE: if you click on the picture, you should get a larger version in a new window.

I purchased several, have shipped them all to myself c/o Trinity, so you can see the originals soon. And I’m putting many of my ecclesia photos onto a slide show, so that when I talk about it, you can look at the pictures and listen or not as you please. (and Trinity, thanks for being a mail drop!)

what I really didn’t expect to be doing


We are sitting in a Dunkin Donuts, a couple doors down from St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s has been doing lunch for over 20 years every Monday, holidays and all. If it’s Monday, there is lunch at St. Paul’s, done by a different parish in the diocese every week. Ecclesia does pastoral care during lunch.

So I have been a couple times. My feeling to date: I can do ok (usually) with one person, maybe two, but not with a table full. I’ve struck out every time. Today–well, ok, there were only two at the table–but I went over because Henry waved at me (we’d talked yesterday before common cathedral). We started talking, and then Philip joined in. And we had more and better conversation. Next week, a bigger table.

After lunch, a simple communion and healing service with discussion of next Sunday’s gospel. I’m going to preach next week at common cathedral, so I need all the help I can get. Next week’s gospel is You cannot serve two masters, don’t consider tomorrow, consider the lilies of the field, seek first the kingdom of God. I’m beginning to think the homeless don’t think this is as hard a text as I am afraid it will be for them. (More on that later).

Then–have I seen Windsor Button? It’s around the corner, and although it specializes in buttons, there is lots and lots of yarn. No one (least of all me) should be surprised that I come away with a little more yarn. I choose to leave “a little” undefined. But what I did not expect is that both Steve (the Rev, above) and Jessica are hot to knit. Jessica, the artist-in-residence for common art, has knit before, but not on double points. If I’d been thinking, maybe a flat piece to sew up the back would’ve been easier for leg warmers, but she chose gorgeous bright color and is doing fine, despite the very slippery metal double points. Steve has not knit before, so we spend a bit more time in search-the-error-and-rescue work, but he was in the rhythm of it by the time we quit, getting even tension and moving along despite what I can only call a chopsticks needle hold (not really well represented in this picture, but I’ll get another up sometime). There are no knitting police, I remind myself and him; if it works, it’s an ok way to do it.

So: I didn’t expect to succeed at pastoral work at lunch with a table. I didn’t expect “no thought for tomorrow” to be acceptable to this congregation. And I really, really didn’t expect to be teaching knitting.



You’re all welcome to read this, but this is really for my discernment committee. They were wonderful at the time, and their work with me and for me continues to grow.

You sent me to actually do street ministry, because you weren’t sure I could “leave behind my CV.” I was pretty sure you were wrong; I talk to all kinds of people every day in my work, of all varieties of background and education. But they come to me, I don’t go to them.

I was right — I can talk to people leaving the CV behind. I think I’ve done the leave behind part (people have asked, and I’ve explained that part of my learning here is to do so without any credential but baptism; that I’m a postulant; that I hope to begin street ministry where I am). But I’ve gained so much that I would not have done if we’d left it as “yes, I can.”

I’ve had amazing conversations with people on Boston Common, on Copley Square, at common art, before and after common cathedral. And without your sending me, I wouldn’t know Amy’s story, nor Hector’s, nor Gary’s, nor Michael’s, nor Brenda’s, that’s just the names I remember. I wouldn’t have heard Tina talking to Shaggy, and heard Shaggy come around, slowly, to maybe he will write again to the person he was living with. Or maybe not. He guided us to the bus terminal, so we could put Gary on a bus to someplace on the Cape, where he had a friend and a job. Three months off heroin, and he wants to stay off and rebuild. He told me about his life, and his time in treatment and rehab, and how he wants to leave Boston and return to where he has friends. Hector told me about losing his father a short time after they reconciled, then his wife two years later, and then “everything.” Sometimes gets medicine for depression, sometimes his doctor says, “Hector, you just lose it on the street.” Today there was a policeman (on a bicycle), asking who was looking out for Tommy, very drunk already and out on the grass. They all said they would, he’d be ok sleeping it off. OK, said the policeman, I don’t want him to get hit by a Duck Tour. And he left, and let the guys sit there, and their very-intoxicated, very out friend sleeping on the grass. That’s just some of what I would not have heard if I had not come.

But that’s not all I would have missed. I have never been much for Bible study; I did not want to listen to what other people had to say, “exchanging ignorance” might have been my unspoken thought. Now I’ve been to Gospel Reflections on Sunday afternoons, and to a newly-formed “Nourish your Spirit” group that is reading the Gospel of John in the midst of a small communion service. Well, some of what is said is hard to follow — but this is different from some parts of the Bible just how?. Much is not what I would have thought, or thought of, but this is a good thing. And much is amazing and wonderful. I am, in fact, going to steal some of what was said last Sunday when I do a sermon for common cathedral the last Sunday I’m here.

Finally — for now — I would have missed seeing two movies I’d never have gone to or rented on my own; The Simpsons and The Corpse Bride. common cinema is doing an animation series; next week is a Japanese anime movie, which will be another first. The movie is shown with popcorn, soft drinks, and a lot of coming and going, but mostly people sit, watch, laugh, and seem to enjoy it. I have.

I am sure there is more to learn and do — it’s May 16th; I have 13 more days. Thank you for the challenge, for being the continuing call to grow into this service.

(the photo is the walkway I take everyday alongside the monastery towards Harvard Square and the subway)

common art


I’m going to try to post some pictures from common art for you. I have a lot; if I get a chance to stand up and talk about ecclesia, I’ll keep pictures going in the background so you can see more of them. This week I sat and knitted; next week I have 3 or 4 people who want to bring knitting for some advice (ulp) or just to work on. Maybe we can get a project going to knit squares to sew into a winter stole.

The first picture shows a couple out for sale; if the artists choose, they can offer their work for sale. Pictures are set up almost every Wednesday on Newbury Street in front of Emmanuel Church, where common art is held. The second is a work in progress.


another digression

Father Bob started a lot of conversations with “how ’bout them Hawks?”, win or lose, but he never stopped there, and he always has time to listen and listens well. We’ll pray for him out here where it’s “what about the Celtics?”

pastoral care and street church

I don’t think I know what the dictionary definition of pastoral care is. I am pretty sure it means something done with another person and means listening to that person very carefully. You both know that at least one person is somehow in need. And I think both people feel something at the end, moved, or comforted, or understood, or helped.

Pastoral care is probably not what my husband used to say to students: “I understand, but I don’t sympathize,” though they kept coming back and talking to him. It’s probably closer to what my friend John and I meant when we said of a coworker that he was the guy you wanted to grow up to be, and that you always felt better after talking to him.

A fine theory. But how do you get the other person to start talking? “How about them Hawks?” doesn’t work in Boston, and I don’t think I ever heard a conversation that started that way go anyplace. In my usual work, people expect me to ask questions, and they expect to answer. In the clinic, this works pretty well. They come to me. Out here, I am coming to them, and they can choose to acknowledge me or not, to respond or not. Giving them my name helps, and making sure I’ve got theirs.

I must digress: I’m learning some names, and I’m recognizing people. Batman and Chino probably had different names at baptism. It’s always first names: Mary, Angelo, Lillia, Michael, Peter, Steven, Eddie, Neal, Martha, Brenda, Billy, Vinnie.

“How are you doing?” seems to work as well as anything. Asking if people have a safe place to sleep, if they get meals anyplace, if they are on a list for housing — these are all OK and most people will answer. But when they talk is when they’ve seen you a couple times and recognize you. Or, for me, I come with Steven, and they know and trust him. So they next thing I’m learning to do, after “how are you doing today?” is to sit and wait. And very often, people start talking and telling you remarkable stories. I don’t always understand everything — poor teeth don’t make for clear speech. But they talk about hard times, and about good times in the past, and about the things that haven’t worked out for them. Then, along with agreeing with the pain and loss and anger, sometimes I can ask what they hope for. I can ask what their good luck, or their special gift is. I can ask what helped them step back from a bad choice or even suicide.

I can see that better relationship makes for better conversations. And that knowing both a name and a story makes the next encounters richer. This isn’t therapy, and it’s not very directive; the goal is not to improve people or better their lives–not, that is, in any short run or any way that will improve an outcome score and make your data analysis look good.

When I did literature, I thought something like this: if humans are made in the image of God, that must mean in the mind and soul, not the physical likeness (since God as Father isn’t physical). So we can learn something about that divine by studying the minds of other people. Literature is the preserved record of the workings of human minds. I can touch human minds from many times and places by reading what they’ve written. So I can study God, indirectly.

Doing pastoral care in any setting I think is like that. We honor each other as children of God, as created in His image, as carrying God. Listening, building a relationship so that there is more trust in what is said and listened to, brings both of us closer to God. It’s hard to do, but it’s easier to do it than to explain it.

altar guild, respite care


Here is the altar ready for the Sunday afternoon common cathedral service. There’s a frontal, made by the first members of this congregation; a wooden bowl with bread; two clear plastic bottles with grape juice. The brown paper bags at this end have small plastic medicine cups that are used for the grape juice (and to collect empties). They’re in stacks of 60, so we know how many communicants we have, approximately.

The altar used for the weekly service started life as a rolling cart for folding chairs. It’s a battered wooden box on wheels, with storage inside. The latch is very high-tech, a fork stuck in the latch instead of a padlock. Here is a picture –I’m afraid providing pictures is not turning out to be efficient, but I’ll keep trying.


I spent part of today at a blood drive-plus-art show; a chance for artists at common art to show and sell their work, if they choose, and an ordinary blood drive. I minded the post-donation table, chatted a little–most, not all of the donors were people working in nearby offices; a few were artists or friends of the artists. And yes, I donated.

In the afternoon Steven and I went to Helen McInnis House–subway plus a long uphill walk. Note to self: drink more than one carton of juice after donating blood if you’re going in for that much exertion. I sat down for a while and managed not to faint, while Steven looked for people; then we went together to the next floor, found two ecclesia members (the cross is easy to spot) and talked with them, then with a couple guys Steve knows who were enjoying sunshine and cigarettes.

McInnis House is unique as far as they and I know. It’s residential, restorative, respite care for homeless. They fund it with Medicare (works pretty well up to 90 days), with donations. Clients need a medical (but not necessarily a physician) referral to enter, and they have to triage, there aren’t enough beds. Many come from hospitals, or they can be referred directly from clinics or even from the street. They may leave, but need re-referral to be readmitted. They’re allowed to leave for medical appointments and for appointments about housing, benefits, meeting with caseworkers. They have to be able to walk, or move around (some in wheelchairs); they don’t get nursing care, no IV’s, but medications are supplied and dispensed, they’re fed and looked after. And ecclesia (among others) gives them pastoral care. Ecclesia staff visit, listen, support, pray, and bring communion. I need to be at common art early tomorrow, but after I’ll try to reflect on what I’m doing and learning about pastoral care. And give some more nuts-and-bolts explanations of what ecclesia is.