The lunch is a simple one, usually just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, served up with chips, applesauce, crackers and cheese. In the wintertime, there is sometimes a little soup. Frank Anderson and other volunteers meet every Tuesday morning in the old kitchen of the Church of the Epiphany near the corner of 13th and G Streets, Northwest, and make the sandwiches on a long steel table. They pack the food and everything else they need for the service into a couple of shopping carts.
They wheel those carts a few blocks north, up to Franklin Square Park, where people are waiting for sandwiches and other blessings, too.
“We try to provide enough to feed at least 70 people,” Anderson said. “You never know if this is the only meal someone may eat today.”
When the church volunteers arrive at the park, there are about 10 people gathered around. As they take the tables out, set up for the service and sing hymns such as “Amazing Grace,” more and more people join the crowd.
“I see a lot of the same people each week, but it changes, especially since the economy has a lot of people struggling lately,” Anderson said.
Street Church has been a volunteer run ministry since its first gathering on Feb. 17, 2006. Many of the original volunteers still help out, such as William Person, who left D.C. for about a year and a half but wants to be here for good.
“Everything I want is right inside the church,” he said.
He makes it his task to bag up lunches for anyone in the park who may be sleeping on a bench during the service or who may not be able to join the group.
He said he has missed only one Tuesday in the park, when he lingered in the sanctuary after preparing lunches to listen to one of the afternoon concerts hosted by the Church of the Epiphany. When the Street Church began, many homeless men staying at the nearby Franklin School Shelter came for the sandwiches also joined in the singing and prayers.
After the Shelter closed in 2008, the men were dispersed, some to permanent supportive housing, others to other shelters far from the park. Many haven’t come back to Street Church. But one man, who goes by the name “Special Ed,” did not let his relocation to Anacostia get in the way of his returning to Street Church every Tuesday.
“I keep coming back to see people who are happy to see me, which is uncommon in my situation,” he said.
Special Ed isn’t the only person who found kindness and fellowship at this church without walls. Samuel Powell said he attends many churches and makes sure to not miss Street Church.
“You want to go where people know and believe the same things you do,” Powell said.
Other attendees desire a change of scenery, such as Scott Keyes, who works around the corner from the park at the Center for American Progress.He said stepping outside the comfort of a church to pray reminds him about the power of worship.
“Jesus intended worship to be something more like this, when we can all get together and forget the hardships of the world and just come together in praise and worship,” Keyes said.
The service, offered amid the trees, is as simple as the lunch.
The Church of the Epiphany draws clergy from all over the D.C. metro area to lead a 20-minute “celebration” consisting of Psalm 23, a message from one of the Gospels, a couple of prayers and communion, made with plain, sliced bread and grape juice. They close with the hymn “We Shall Overcome.”
Nick Myers, a priest from Christ Church Episcopal in Alexandria, has led the celebration four times this year and believes it is a blessing for both the volunteers and those who gather in the park. “We’re a community,” Myers said.
“We’re meeting together as a group, connected through the church, and we’re letting people know that they are a part of that community even in a world that tells them they’re not.”