Outdoor Ministry Strives To Fill Spiritual Needs and Relieve the Pain of Isolation
Taking a walk around the neighborhood is a nice way to exercise. But when Rev. Joan Murray takes walks throughout Waltham and the Metro-West area of Boston, she is looking to establish relationships with people who are experiencing homelessness, living in poverty, or living with mental illness or addiction.
"Being outside and in relationship with people who often feel invisible, helps their self-esteem," she said. "There may be social services available to address some of their needs or issues, but there isn't a way to address their spiritual needs, or the isolation they face."
Rev. Murray founded Chaplains on the Way in June, 2008 as a faith-based public charity and has grown it to about ten volunteers, a seminarian intern each year, and recently a paid chaplain, half-time, Rebecca Sheble-Hall. Ministry of presence is the heart of the organization and includes non-judgmental listening and companionship offered out of the conviction that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect simply because God loves all.
Members of the team can be found knitting with others in a women's shelter, conducting Bible study in a men's shelter, taking a monthly labyrinth walk in the sanctuary of a local church (where they also hold Wednesday worship services) or sitting down to a meal at the local soup kitchen. The volunteers also visit a community day center, health care centers, the Salvation Army, hotels, and even McDonalds in the hope of being able to provide companionship to someone in the midst of struggle or suffering.
"I feel we are acting like Veronica," said Murray, referring to the woman who gave Jesus her veil so He could wipe his forehead while He carried his cross to Golgotha. "She didn't stop the crucifixion, but when she touched Him there was a momentary sense of relief and in that moment she received back some of Jesus, through the imprint in her veil. We experience that same God when we make that face-to-face connection with someone in need."
In living out their primary mission through presence, accompaniment and advocacy, the group acts as a bridge between those they serve and faith communities, schools, hospitals and social service providers. As a relationship forms and trust is built through a ministry of presence, needs for particular services may be identified. Thus spiritual care includes practical assistance in the form of accompaniment, referrals, and individual advocacy.
"A ministry of presence has great potential for healing through relationship by ending the isolation, affirming each person's intrinsic worth, and supporting each person's need for hope and quest for meaning in life," said Murray. "By helping them draw upon their own faith traditions and life experiences, we strive to help people feel a sense of relief so they can find hope and meaning in their lives."
Chaplains on the Way is a member of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ (MACUCC) Task Team to End Homelessness, as well as the Waltham Ministerial Association and the Waltham Interagency Council. Rev. Murray, who was ordained by the United Church of Christ in April, 2002, is a member of Wellesley Congregational (Village) Church, UCC. She can be reached at Chaplains on the Way, 617-504-6877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.