History and Background

Rev. Deborah W. Little began meeting with homeless people on the streets of Boston in the summer of 1994. Ecclesia Ministries and common cathedral were born out of her street priesthood.

History & Background on Ecclesia Ministries

worship participant wearing common cathedral cross

In the summer of 1994, the Rev. Deborah W. Little began meeting with homeless people on the streets of Boston, offering sandwiches, friendship, and referrals. (Read the narrative of Rev. Little's journey to Street Priesthood here.) From that simple beginning, common cathedral has evolved into an ecumenical church community that engages homeless and privileged people, service providers, clergy, seminarians, artists, and professionals of all kinds in activities that work to meet the physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs of homeless people in Boston.

How did I get to the street? I wanted to learn about God, and I wanted to learn what it is to be a servant. I wanted to get closer to people on the street, to help, to understand, to learn, and to see what it means to love your neighbor ...
What did the Hebrew prophet mean, what did Jesus mean, when they said if you really want to move closer to the heart of life, to the heart of God, get closer to the poor?
— Rev. Debbie Little

Chronically homeless individuals, especially those who suffer from severe mental illness and/or addiction disorders, have a hard time escaping homelessness, finding permanent housing, and reintegrating at some level into community. For these individuals, perception of the world has been impaired by drugs, alcohol, and unsuccessful social experiences. There has been a loss of trust in oneself and others—a basic loss of belief. Reestablishing connection, trust, and belief is the heart of the recovery model of addiction treatment and is important spiritual work that provides successful outcomes for addicts. In the Handbook of Health and Religion (Oxford University Press, 2001), Drs. Harold G. Koenig and Harvey J. Cohen, both Professors of Medicine at Duke University, reviewed more than 1,600 studies, and found that across mental and physical disorders, religious involvement is overwhelmingly associated with positive physical and mental health outcomes.

common cathedral’s ministers are out on the streets nearly every day of the week offering prayer and companionship, and making referrals to social service agencies. Our weekly outdoor worship service, and mid-week programs, common art and Spiritual Care at the Barbara McInnis House, continue to provide community, inspiration and healing to thousands of un-housed men and women each year, and our spiritual care program in hospitals and jails allows us to maintain and deepen our connection with vulnerable men and women in need. While we provide a Christian context for our worship and spiritual reflection groups, we are a non-proselytizing ministry, open to broad discussions of belief and belief systems.