When John Trubina began his diaconal field training at St. Paul’s, Oakland, he took a mid-day tour of the neighborhood. St. Paul’s neighborhood includes Lake Merritt and its park. Lake Merritt is a pleasant setting for city locals to take a short break during the busy day. John paid a visit to the park later in the afternoon and saw the next round of visitors jogging and generally winding down for the day. Then around 9 p.m., on his third visit, John found a third and very different park population; the homeless. Lake Merritt at night is not a good place to be, but when a person is forced to choose food over shelter because having both is not an option, the area has its attractions. During John’s time at St. Paul’s, he made numerous visits to Lake Merritt’s homeless offering food, conversation, and prayers. One chilly night in March, he began a conversation with an elderly woman sitting beneath a tree. Lilly declined John’s invitation to visit St. Paul’s on the following Sunday. Although she wanted to, she was too self-conscience. She felt she wouldn’t be well dressed, well groomed enough; in fact, that she would be too “smelly” and “dirty.” In response, John promised that he would bring church — and community — to her.
After he was ordained deacon and joined the clergy team at St. Clare’s, Pleasanton, John began working on his promise to Lilly. With inspiration from Open Cathedral of the San Francisco Night Ministry and Ecclesia Ministries in Ashville, North Carolina, and with the help of friends and colleagues, John began a street church in October 2011.
We are now Sacred Space. We hold weekly outdoor worship services — rain or shine — for anyone who wishes to attend. Our shared worship includes song, prayer, ministry of the word, and ministry of the table. With donations from supporters and a few grants, we provide: a free bag lunch of a sandwich, water, cookie or snack bar, and fruit; hot food during the colder months and items of clothing such as socks, scarves, hats, and blankets.
Homeless and poor people — people who exist on the margins of society — are often fearful of entering a church; sometimes because they perceive rejection and sometimes because they reject the structure and formality. Many public and private agencies established to help the homeless and marginalized must, of necessity, limit their services to those who are or are trying to be clean and sober. This leaves a great many people ineligible for services. As a result there are homeless and marginalized today who are isolated from larger community and who receive only sporadic or impersonal help. Sacred Space has been organized to be an affirmative and non-threatening community with these underserved people where they are.
- We obtain permission from those we hope to serve to meet in their midst.
- We share our own good fortune by providing food and small, practical necessities of life.
- We offer an opportunity for worship.
- We offer — with humility — conversation, a listening ear, encouragement, our prayers, our presence.
Sacred Space ministry is a community of un-housed and housed people called by God into Christian community and ministry for the purpose of transforming all our lives. We draw from the resources of diverse congregations living into God’s compassion for the poor. Our mission is to be in spiritual companionship with homeless and marginalized men and women and all who seek a non-threatening way to be with others in Christian relationship and in community.
We first met at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. We were there for a number of weeks and happily co-existed with the Occupy Movement, but realized the distraction of current events was interfering with our efforts to connect with our primary constituents, the homeless. We then relocated for a few weeks to the Oakland Peace Center, located between uptown Oakland and the Lake Merritt area; however this location proved to be too remote for the homeless. After obtaining permission of the people who gather there, we are now located for the long term at the park at 32nd Street and San Pablo Avenue in west Oakland. We find that we are being accepted and trusted more quickly than we anticipated.
We operate outside the usual construct of four walls and a roof. Our current pattern and long term conviction is that Sacred Space not own property beyond basic equipment. Our start-up equipment includes a rolling file box for worship supplies, a folding table, and plastic storage bins and hampers for storing, transporting, and distributing lunches and clothing. We anticipate, at some point, indulging in a pop-up canopy as a concession to inclement weather.
As we have moved forward in Sacred Space, we have received instruction and feedback from our community brothers and sisters and enthusiasm and support from our donors and home churches. As a result our vision of Sacred Space’s future has grown and taken form. We have had discussions with the city of Hayward and will be establishing a Sacred Space — Hayward, with support from the Diocese of California and the Southern Alameda Deanery churches in May.
An unexpected but happy effect of Sacred Space is that as we shared our story with friends, family, and acquaintances — people who are housed, fed, and clothed, but would not otherwise be part of a church — are responding passionately to our ministry with donations and participation. We appear to be building a worship community that includes the homeless and marginalized and the housed and mainstream.
We are optimistic that we will be able to repeat this model elsewhere in Alameda and Contra Costa and our intention is to remain within this two county area of the San Francisco Bay Area. We plan to develop a basic start-up guide containing our key learnings to aid any other groups who wish to establish a similar model of street church outside our area of operation.
We currently have established a bishop’s committee which comprises up to ten volunteer leaders (a mix of laity and clergy). This organization is headed by a clergy person-in-charge, who reports directly to the diocesan bishop. In the absence of the clergy person-in-charge, a bishop’s warden or people’s warden serves as the person in charge.
If you would like further information, please contact the Rev. John Trubina, firstname.lastname@example.org, 415.517.5646, or visit our web presence: sacredspaceeastbay.weebly.com and www.facebook.com/pages/Open-CathedralEast-Bay.