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Church on the go; Two ministers aid Worcester's homeless.

Byline: Bronislaus B. Kush

WORCESTER -The Rev. Elizabeth Magill's church has no altar, pulpit, choir loft or bell tower, and its congregants worship without Bibles, hymnals, missals or prayer books.

Her spiritual charges have no need of varnished pews and cushioned kneelers, they said, because a well-worn bench at a WRTA bus stop will do.

And unlike other houses of worship that are distinctly marked by their beautifully contemplative stained-glass windows and towering cathedral ceilings, Rev. Magill's church is defined by grimy storefronts and litter-strewn alleys.

"This is where it's at," she said.

Since early November, Rev. Magill, who is a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Mary Eaton, a Unitarian Universalist, have been mingling and praying every Sunday with the homeless, lonely and downtrodden who frequent the downtown area.

Ultimately, they are hoping to lead formal weekly Sunday services for the isolated and needy - all those who don't ordinarily feel welcome

attending a structured worship program in church.

For now, though, they're building up trust, conversing and handing out peanut butter sandwiches and juice boxes to people who drift about the Main Street area between City Hall and the People in Peril shelter.

"We want to create conversations that will hopefully build into meaningful relationships," said Rev. Magill, an animated and energetic woman who once worked at a homeless shelter in Rockville, Md.

The two have become familiar enough figures among the weekend downtown crowd that they've taken a chance in scheduling a special service at 1 p.m. Easter Sunday on City Hall Plaza.

They said they won't be upset if few attend.

"Given their lives, it takes a while before these individuals accept you," said Ms. Eaton, who studied with Rev. Magill at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge.

The exchanges the women have with the individuals they run into usually result in conversations of a personal nature. There's talk of past lives, families, battles with alcohol and drug addictions, and future hopes.

From time to time, God and religion creep in.

"They talk to us about everything," explained Rev. Magill, who attends the United Congregational Church in Worcester. "And if somebody just wants a sandwich, that's OK, too. We always invite them to pray with us, but, if they don't, it's no big deal."

Rev. Magill said those they come in contact with very often bring up their drug and alcohol problems, eagerly sharing how long they've been sober.

The two said that most of the individuals they deal with live at the PIP center in Main South or on the streets, finding shelter in abandoned buildings or cars. Many have mental health issues and some are so isolated that they shy from other passers-by.

A number wish to remain anonymous, consciously choosing to blend into the inner-city streetscape.

Like Don.

A painter by trade, the middle-aged man said he enjoys seeing the two women make their Sunday rounds but stresses that he's not into the "religion thing."

For several weeks, he accepted sandwiches from the women, but preferred not to converse with them. Now, he said, he considers them friends.

"They do a good thing," he said while munching on a granola bar offered by Ms. Eaton.

Others said they like talking with the women because the discussions are cathartic.

"I don't mind because it gets me to thinking about my life and where I want to be," said Curt, who jokingly said people mix him up with the actor because his middle name is Russell. "Curt Russell, you get it? You'd think that it's a great pickup line, but believe me it doesn't work."

The 39-year-old said he's a stonemason but has been out of a job for some time. To make some quick money, he helps clean up the DCU Center nights.

Curt, a Jehovah's Witness, admits that he's messed up on occasion, noting that he's spent time in the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction.

"But I'm hopeful," he said. "All it might take is one good job."

Later, when Rev. Magill asks Curt what she can prayerfully ask God to give him, he immediately responded, "A job."

The two women said they're not sure where their ministry will go, but they said they're successfully building rapport with individuals who need someone to talk to.

There's enough trust that some of the street people have even offered to share some of their treasured alcohol with them.

Others have warned them to stay away from individuals who may harm them.

"I never feel afraid because we're warned about people who may be troublesome," said Rev. Magill. "Our people take care of us."

Some have suggested to the women that they seek out certain individuals who might need help.

One man, for example, urged that Rev. Magill go over and talk to another who had been rummaging around earlier that morning in a trash receptacle on Worcester Common.

"These are the people we want to reach," she said. "Jesus said that whenever two or three gather in his name, he will be there. That is our spirituality."


CUTLINE: (1) Yeshua Emmanuel Abba holds a half-rolled cigarette in his left hand and a cross in his right as he talks with the Rev. Mary Eaton. (2) The Rev. Liz Magill and the Rev. Mary Eaton, who attended divinity school together, walk along the Common as they start their day's ministry. (3) Rev. Mary Eaton hands a cross to Yeshua Emmanuel Abba as Rev. Liz Magill talks with others on the Worcester Common.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 18, 2007
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