Dean Letter: Outreach Center Update

Hello St. Paul’s,

As you know, we began a listening process last spring to hear from all of you about some ideas for expanding our ministries of music and outreach. We hired consultants to guide the process and in July they presented us with their report. The next step in this process will be to determine the capacity of the congregation to finance one or more of the proposed projects. That exercise is on hold for now, but in the meantime I don’t want you to forget about the exciting possibilities that you all discussed and got excited about.

It can be hard to get enthusiastic about an idea; we need something concrete; so our architects are working on a masterplan that will encompass all the aspects of the ministry expansion project. Meanwhile, several of you have expressed a desire to see the spaces where the outreach and music centers will live, and I plan to offer a tour later this fall. Watch for a notice about that soon!

The dream is to maximize the potential of our cathedral campus for the key ministries of outreach and music, as well as providing what our children and young families need in order to form the next generation of Christians. For today’s message I want to focus on the outreach center. Here’s the background. For several years before the pandemic we offered monthly showers to our unsheltered neighbors, many of whom live close to St. Paul’s in Balboa Park. We borrowed the diocese’s portable shower trailer, offered a cooked breakfast thanks to our Methodist friends, provided free toiletries and clothing, and spent a Saturday morning serving and befriending up to 100 or more of those who often feel friendless and unwanted. Dozens of Cathedral members and others gave their time and talent to make St. Paul’s a welcoming space for a few hours each month. We were known as a place where you weren’t made to feel unwelcome just because you lived outside. 

Twice a year we collaborated with the Interfaith Shelter Network to offer a few families overnight shelter and a meal for two weeks, converting our Guild Room into a dormitory for that period. It wasn’t easy or convenient to set up and staff these ministries, but this congregation is passionate about serving our less fortunate neighbors and we were glad to do it.

The pandemic forced us to shut down Showers of Blessings, of course, and the construction project has temporarily taken away the space we used for the shelter, and it has been a source of heartache for many of us that we haven’t been able to serve in the same way that we did before. But, in the midst of the isolation and frustration of the past year, a new dream took hold. We started to imagine a permanent space for these ministries, and the chapel undercroft seemed like the right location for such a space, even though it is complicated by multiple levels and it’s currently not fully accessible. A group of parishioners started to work with an architect, a former parishioner who gave generously of his time pro bono, from his home in another state, designing a multi-purpose space where we could offer showers, overnight shelter, and other services, not only to our unsheltered neighbors but also potentially to house mission groups visiting from other places to work with homeless people, immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.

It took many months and several iterations to get to a point where the design included everything on our wishlist, but we finally arrived at a point where we could hand that initial design over to our local architects, so that they can determine how best to merge it with the realities of old construction materials, existing ductwork, and security concerns, as well as the changes brought about by the 525 Olive construction project.

Here’s what we hope the outreach center will offer: a fully accessible space, secure from the rest of the Cathedral campus, with permanent showers and laundry facilities; with rooms where cots can be set up for overnight guests, whether they are with the Interfaith Shelter Network, or Park denizens seeking shelter from winter storms, or mission groups from other churches;  a space where a case manager from one of the city’s agencies can hold clinics on a regular basis; and lots of storage for the bed linens, cots, clothing, towels, and other essential supplies.

If we can achieve all this, we will be well equipped to do what the church is called to do: offer non-judgmental hospitality and dignity to our less fortunate neighbors, seeking and serving Christ in each one of them.

We have had conversations with representatives from the city and from the local agencies to ensure that our plans will provide a needed service, complementary to other services already available. And, while our ministry will be addressing the symptoms and not the causes of homelessness, we plan to continue to advocate for more affordable housing and better governmental strategies to address the root causes of mental illness, addiction, and homelessness, in the hope that some day what we offer might be actually obsolete; but that day is very far off, as we all know.

You will be hearing a lot more about this project in the new year: once the annual pledge campaign is behind us we will focus on moving our administrative ministry into our new space, which will create a domino effect where other ministries can then move into redeveloped spaces, once we have the funds in hand. It’s an audacious dream, but one worth holding onto and making a reality. I hope you will work, pray, and give for its success.

See you in church!

Your sister in Christ,
Penny

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2 thoughts on “Dean Letter: Outreach Center Update”

  1. This is great news. I think there is no more important work that we, as a Cathedral can do, and the groundwork is already laid. I look forward to hearing more about the permanent showers and will do my bit to staff them when they are operational.

    Thank you Penny and all who have been working hard on this!!
    Phil

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