You might be tempted to label St. John’s Street Church as just another outreach program for the poor. But simply calling it an outreach program doesn’t capture the essence of what is going on each week at the corner of W. Broad Street and Central Avenue in Columbus. Street Church certainly does minister to the homeless, but it’s also a very real congregation. It’s just like any other congregation that holds a second service on Sundays. Only instead of holding the service in a Nave, they take the service out of the church and into the neighborhood.
Street Church held its first service on Easter in 2006 and has held services every Sunday ever since. Immediately following the 10:30 a.m. service at St. John’s, the congregation, along with Lee Anne Reat (Vicar) Craig Foster (Deacon) and Meribah Mansfield (Deacon), start loading up cars with everything they need for their second service.
The people who attend Street Church are predominantly poor and homeless, yet there is a dedicated group of parishioners who attend week after week regardless of snow, rain, heat and illness. Of course, there are people who come and go as with any other congregation, but Street Church has people who have faithfully worshiped with them for years. Bishop Breidenthal observed that there were people in attendance at his most recent visitation in 2017 whom he remembered from his very first visitation there 10 years earlier.
On any given Sunday, Street Church draws 40 to 150 people from the community. After the service is over, a healthy lunch is provided to everyone. St. John’s strives to model health and wellness, both spiritually and physically, so only healthy food choices are offered at their gatherings. This is one way they are helping to reduce the devastatingly high rate of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity in their neighborhood. Three other area churches help St. John’s with the lunch; St. Mark’s, Upper Arlington, Liberty Presbyterian in Powell, and New Life Church in Grove City.
At first glance, one might assume that they have such regular attendance at their services because of the free meal that follows each service, however that truly doesn’t seem to be the case. Bishop Price tells the story of being there on one Sunday that was bitterly cold. He offered to just do prayers and skip the Eucharist so everyone could eat and get out of the cold more quickly. He was surprised to find that the unanimous response was, “No! We want the whole service and we want to take communion.” As Lee Anne Reat said, “The minor discomfort of winter weather was nothing compared to the healing power of Eucharist.”
Street Church brings multi-faceted healing to the hurting people in their community. When you worship at Street Church, you can’t help but think to yourself, “This is the way Christians were meant to worship.” A neighborhood church. Not a church where people in the neighborhood can go, but a church that goes straight to the people in the neighborhood. Worshiping together. Crying together. Grieving together. Laughing together. Eating together. The Sunday I went to Street Church, people were grieving over the death of a beloved member who had just lost his battle with substance abuse. There was no judgment; just grief, love and understanding. This is a congregation united by God and by their shared struggles of everyday life.
The line between “us” and “them” that is often difficult to erase in the best-intentioned congregations is nonexistent at Street Church. It is very easy for me to imagine Jesus being in attendance at Street Church. You know when you are there that you are standing on holy ground.
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to visit Street Church, the experience is a graceful and beautiful reminder that there is no “us and them.” There is only “us.”
David Dreisbach serves as Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.