My name is Lindsey Krinks and I have been active in homeless outreach, housing advocacy, and community organizing in Nashville since 2007. In September of 2013, I entered into a street chaplaincy position at Open Table Nashville (OTN), an inter-faith non-profit that disrupts cycles of poverty, journeys with the marginalized, and provides education about issues of homelessness. This blog is intended to be a place of reflection, a place to bear witness to the death and resurrection we see in the margins of our society, a place to wrestle with systems and theologies that dehumanize, and a place to give voice to the stories and struggles that too often go unnoticed, unheard.
My street chaplaincy position with OTN is an ecumenical ministry of presence and accompaniment with people on the streets and in faith communities. Its two-fold mission is (1) to reduce homelessness by engaging in practical and pastoral care with people on the streets and in the jails, shelters, and medical facilities they cycle through, and (2) to increase the capacity of faith communities to work toward ending homelessness by providing education, trainings, support, and mentoring. For me, street chaplaincy also involves “accompaniment” – the intentional practice of journeying and struggling alongside the people in our community who experience injustice, exploitation, and oppression. To read about OTN’s Street Chaplaincy initiative and other chaplaincy resources, visit here.
Over the last decade, my daily life has involved journeying with the poorest of the poor in Nashville through homeless outreach and advocacy. Through this work, I have gotten to know Nashville from the underside—from the tent cities, jails, psych units, rehab facilities, motels, soup kitchens, and housing projects—and I’ve been deeply transformed by what I’ve experienced. Like Ezekiel, I’ve seen the valley of dry bones coming to life. I’ve seen the loaves and fishes multiply under Jefferson Street bridge to feed hundreds of hungry people. I’ve seen the early church in Acts embodied by residents of local homeless encampments who share what they have and make sure none among them go without.
When I was doing homeless outreach with secular non-profits, however, something was missing. I realized that the time I spent with people on the streets who were struggling with mental health and addiction issues, coping with trauma and abuse, and feeling desperate, degraded, and worn out, was sacred and holy. Despite the messiness of this work, I realized that there is something about journeying with others that is deeply spiritual. I realized that God is present in the margins and working toward healing, wholeness, and a world where everyone has food, housing, meaningful work, and dignity. When I entered into Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2010, I began to seek a more holistic model of outreach and caregiving and found such a model when I was introduced to the concept of street chaplaincy.
What is Street Chaplaincy?
Street chaplaincy is a form of ministry that combines the practical aspects of homeless outreach with the spiritual and pastoral aspects of chaplaincy. In other words, it combines caring for the physical body by helping people access resources and housing with caring for the soul by being a vehicle for comfort, hope, love, community, justice, and restoration. Street chaplaincy seeks wholeness and healing in margins by meeting people where they are and making resources and pastoral care accessible to them. It faithfully and creatively embodies God’s love in the margins and concretely responds to oppression, loneliness, isolation, trauma, injustice, and suffering and works toward the resurrection of the living dead.
In addition to journeying with the marginalized, street chaplaincy also involves journeying with members of local faith communities. Many people in local congregations are searching for meaningful and sustainable ways to live out their faith and connect to people who are hurting. They are hungry for models of service that go beyond charity and for the resources, knowledge, skills, and connections to become more involved. Street chaplains not only offer educational opportunities and trainings to help fill these gaps but they also help mentor people and groups who are being called to more closely engage those in the margins.
The roots of chaplaincy date back to the 4th Century, A.D. when St. Martin of Tours was traveling on horseback in modern-day France and came across a freezing beggar. With nothing in his purse to give, St. Martin cut off half of his cloak and gave it to the beggar. That night as he slept, he saw a vision of Jesus who said, “Here is Martin, a soldier who is not even baptized, and he has clad me.” St. Martin was baptized and later on, the remaining half of his cloak (cappa in Latin) became a holy relic. When it was taken into battle for good luck, it was kept in a capella and the guardian of the cloak was called a capellanu. The English words “chapel” and “chaplain” originate herein, and we find that the tradition of chaplaincy began on the streets with an act of mercy and with Jesus identifying himself with and revealing himself through the poor. Street chaplaincy attempts to resurrect St. Martin’s witness of chaplaincy that first occurred in “undomesticated” spaces of our society like the streets.
Some historical models of street chaplaincy include St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, and Archbishop Oscar Romero. One contemporary model is the Mental Health Chaplaincy (MHC) in Seattle (1987-present). During the summer of 2012, I received an Imagination Grant from Vanderbilt Divinity School that allowed me to travel to Seattle to meet and study with Craig Rennebohm, a street chaplain with MHC who has been journeying with the un-housed for 25 years and is in the process of retiring. I was also able to meet with Kae Eaton and Katie Stickney, the two amazing women continuing Rennebohm’s ministry. When I was trained as a homeless outreach worker in 2008, I was trained in the “relational outreach model” which Rennebohm and his colleague Ken Kraybill pioneered in the 1990s. Over the years, Rennebohm and his colleagues have worked with countless people experiencing homelessness and severe mental health problems. They have also worked extensively with communities of faith, service providers, city officials, business professionals, and others to help them better respond to people who are experiencing homelessness. MHC is an ecumenical outreach program that is based in a local church and funded by several local congregations.