In April, the Cathedral Church of St. Paul’s MANNA (Many Angels Needed Now and Always) ministry of and with the homeless community in downtown Boston was awarded a United Thank Offering Grant of $14,049 for a Hispanic/Latinx pastoral intern to join its team.
The United Thank Offering (UTO) awards grants to support innovative mission and ministry throughout The Episcopal Church and provinces of the Anglican Communion, and this new addition to the MANNA team will help the program change in ways that its pastoral leaders believe will help them serve their community more fully.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, people were told to “stay home” to protect themselves and others, but for people experiencing homelessness, this wasn’t an option. The MANNA ministry had to change the way it does its ministry practically overnight as it dealt with an influx of people from different communities around Boston who were left without resources when the pandemic hit, said head pastor to MANNA, the Rev. Jennifer McCracken, in an interview.
“What we learned about people experiencing homelessness at the beginning of COVID is that people who were in systems--like shelters, things like that--they were taken into account by the city of how to best meet their needs in terms of shelter and food, but if you weren’t in a system, there was no plan,” McCracken said. “Those folks were just literally left outside.”
MANNA went from serving one meal a week through its Monday lunch program to now serving five meals a week, with Sunday, Monday and Tuesday breakfast and an additional meal on Tuesdays for those participating in afternoon programming such as a writer’s group and meditation. Now feeding anywhere from 200-300 people a day, MANNA has also seen an increase in the number of people of color in its community as the pandemic disproportionately affects them, McCracken said.
“We’ve really come to understand that our demographics have changed, and if we’re really committed to meeting the needs of who we are serving in any given moment in a fluid community--which we are--then we really need to be paying attention to who is sitting in the room with an increase of Black and Brown and Latinx people,” McCracken said. “We need to be better understanding how to serve those folks, and with a staff that is predominantly white, we’re not doing that, not to its fullest extent. So to be able to more fully foster the sense of belonging that has been at the core of our desire at MANNA, we need to know how to embrace our diverse community better and more fully.”
In June of 2020, Kevin Neil on the MANNA staff received a UTO seminarian grant intended to start a 12-Step housing group, but when that became impossible due to the pandemic, MANNA returned that grant and applied instead for a grant to fund the intern position and related resources.
In the search for the person to fill this role, McCracken’s first focus is to connect with the Hispanic Ministries group in the diocese to see if there might be a person in the diocesan community who would be a good fit. The UTO grant will fund this position (40 weeks for 21 hours a week) to be a part of the MANNA staff, to give pastoral care, to interpret and translate resources and to help rethink other aspects of the program--such as worship services, food and music.
“We applied for a Hispanic/Latinx intern specifically, because we can’t fully embrace our people just by speaking a different language,” McCracken said. “We need to fully embrace them by having someone that understands the culture and how we can change things at MANNA to embrace that culture--whether it’s with music or food or language or resources that we don’t currently have in other languages.”
In this time of pandemic, God has invited everyone to think creatively and reach further, and this is something MANNA's leaders believe is very much in line with diocesan mission strategy around embracing brave change and with the vision of the cathedral to become an anti-racist institution, McCracken said in the interview.
“MANNA--even with all its challenges--is feeling called to change, and that is scary for all of us,” McCracken said. “I think that that’s a message that every other church that is going to need to change needs to hear: That it’s scary, and every time we try something new we have the potential to fail, but what folks at MANNA have taught me is that to find faces of resurrection, we do have to go through the anxiety and the challenges and the pain sometimes to get to a place of newness, and that’s what we’re being asked to do in this.”
--Bridget K. Wood
To learn more about MANNA, please visit https://www.stpaulboston.org/manna.