Warm Souls in Boston

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Homeless people in Boston have a new way to keep the coming season’s wintry elements at bay: a water-resistant, wind-breaking thermal blanket made of Mylar. For that, they’re thanking a ministry by and for homeless people at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul.

The cathedral’s community of homeless and recently housed individuals rolled out its Cloak Project on November 18. That night, participants began handing out 8,000 of these donated, compact, and lightweight blankets, just like the ones that are used to cover marathoners when they cross a finish line.

“Why not have homeless helping homeless?” asked a man named David, who slept under a Cambridge bridge for years, as he prepared to hand out the blankets. “It might save someone’s life.”

Each blanket costs less than $1. Episcopal churches, schools and other institutions rallied their people to buy blankets on Amazon.com and ship them to the cathedral. Christ Episcopal Church in Needham donated 3,000.

Before the end of November, the cathedral had more than enough blankets to shield every homeless person in Boston, where 7,000 sleep outside on any given night, according to last year’s census. If the homeless remain involved in the project, the blankets could get where they’re needed most, said the Rev. Canon Steven Bonsey, the cathedral’s canon pastor.

In a brief sermon for Cloak Project leaders, Canon Bonsey said that homeless people had come up with the idea, raised donations for it, and would know where to find other people in need, whether they’re sleeping in entryways, parks or cars.

“Every one of those steps in that project could only have been done by homeless people,” Bonsey said. “You are the only people on the planet who could do this.”

The Cloak Project is an initiative of Many Angels Needed Now and Always (MANNA), a community within the St. Paul’s congregation. Its leadership team consists of 50 to 60 individuals who are either homeless or have recently moved into housing. They help lead worship at St. Paul’s, help serve a free community meal on Mondays, lead meditation exercises for churchgoers, and publish a homeless literary journal called The Pilgrim.

The idea for the Cloak Project came from a homeless man named Paul during MANNA’s 2012 pilgrimage, in which homeless and others walked 35 miles together. Within a few months, several homeless men and women had received communication training from the Diocese of Massachusetts’ Leadership Development Initiative. They used those skills to give talks on homelessness at area congregations and raise support for the Cloak Project.

“If you have a community with enough spaciousness in it,” said the Rev. Cristina Rathbone, a cathedral missioner who serves as MANNA’s priest, “then [everyone’s] gifts can become visible.”

TLC Correspondent G. Jeffrey MacDonald is author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010).


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