Youville Residents and The Outdoor Church Support Cambridge’s Most Vulnerable Population
A new partnership between Youville House and The Outdoor Church aims to provide needed resources to Cambridge's homeless population. The volunteer program, started by Harvard Divinity intern Art Lajara Diaz, gives Youville residents a welcome opportunity to connect with one another while contributing to their community.
Every first Saturday of the month, Art Lajara Diaz, a Youville intern from Harvard Divinity School, assists residents at Youville House as they prepare sandwiches for an organization called The Outdoor Church. This organization has become a year-round lifeline for homeless men and women who live in Cambridge.
“Many church-based food programs require people to sit through a service before they are fed,” says Diaz. “The Outdoor Church doesn’t force people to attend their services or try to ‘fix’ people. They are focused on meeting people where they are, without expectations or judgment.” The Outdoor Church, says Diaz, is often lauded outside of Massachusetts an exemplary model of homelessness outreach.
Diaz is Catholic and a big believer in the Catholic social teaching on poverty. This teaching asserts that the needs of the poor and marginalized should be our highest priority, as Pope Francis reminded followers in his famous encyclical Laudato Si. When Diaz arrived at Harvard as a student at the Divinity School, he was thrilled to get the opportunity to do his first year of field education with The Outdoor Church. As an intern, he was involved with all aspects of this progressive ministry: from their outdoor services outside the Porter Square T station on Sunday mornings, to their afternoon meal distribution activities throughout Cambridge.
The services at Porter Square are based on The Book of Common Prayer, with a minister offering readings and leading discussion among the congregation. Though founded by an Episcopalian priest, all faiths are welcome to participate in what is considered to be a non-denominational service. Group reflection and sharing take the place of a traditional sermon, with a spirit of participation and equality prevailing. Congregants are offered communion and the service concludes with a closing prayer, followed by coffee hour.
In the afternoons, a street outreach team walks through Harvard Square and Central Square with sandwiches, beverages, water, socks, toiletries, and other essential resources. Their arrival at each distribution point is often anticipated by people who have come to rely on them. Outdoor Church is known for its consistent presence in the streets, regardless of inclement weather.
Now in his final year of Divinity School, Diaz is completing his second field education requirement as an intern at Youville House. The Outdoor Church has remained close to his heart: he continues to actively volunteer and is excited to introduce more Youville residents to the organization.