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The seeds of The Crossing were planted in 2005 when Rev. Stephanie Spellers was hired as a minister at The Cathedral Church of St. Paul. Charged with young adult outreach, she gathered eight 20 to 30-somethings in November 2005 for dinner and worship. Some of the original group came from St. Paul’s and others did not. What all of them had in common was a hunger for a new kind of church and a positive vision. Rather than just deconstructing institutional church practice, Rev. Steph wanted a group that would construct something new. At each meeting, a member of the group would share a spiritual practice that meant something to him or her, like yoga, singing, or art. By spring 2006, they were ready to expand their vision and open the community to growth. On April 20, 2006 they held their first worship gathering in the sanctuary at St. Paul’s. Since that time The Crossing has grown and its funding has increased. As of July 2008, it is still a ministry of St. Paul’s and continues to meet in the sanctuary, but is increasingly self-governing and financially independent.
The sanctuary at St. Paul’s Cathedral is large with a vaulted ceiling and pews. The Crossing reorganizes the space radically for their Thursday worship. They meet in the small open chancel at the front of the church, making it homey by arranging a rug, lamps, chairs and cushions. The altar is covered by colorful cloth and candles. Worshipers sit on chairs or on the cushions on the floor and the music team sits at the base of the chancel, where there is a piano, bass, and drum. During worship and afterwards, The Crossing uses the sanctuary space more widely: there is an arts and crafts table and a refreshments table at the base of the chancel and, during worship, people split into smaller groups for prayer or discussion, which meet in the pews or at the back of the sanctuary.
The Emergent Stream
The Crossing taps into the emergent church stream because it has, according to Rev. Steph, a unique capacity to bridge evangelical and progressive mainline traditions. Emergent, as The Crossing understands it, is a fresh paradigm. It provides a lens from which to view existing traditions and to worship from a multiplicity of locations. Being emergent gives worshipers permission to say, in Rev. Steph’s words: “Yes, we’ve done it like that but we don’t have to. What will allow us to share the gospel with our postmodern culture, with the gifts of our tradition, today?”
A key question for The Crossing, since its inception, has been how to pay attention to the experiences of its members and community, while remaining grounded in traditional practices. The Crossing is not new just for the sake of creating newness, but pulls in practices that continue to have value for its members. The motto is “Real Church for Real Life.” Although The Crossing does not use the Book of Common Prayer, it does emphasize the Eucharist and worship always includes communion. Other traditional Episcopal practices that the Crossing incorporates are a celebration of embodiedness and the incarnation, a deep respect for monastic traditions, and the cultivation of an intentional Christian life. It also embraces the Episcopal Church’s radical welcome ethic of including all, regardless of sexual orientation. The Crossing makes use of varied music, from funk to modern secular to monastic chants. It also adopts the evangelical praise model, which assumes that people should be transformed by church. Worship is co-led by Rev. Steph and two lay people, who take the lead for one month at a time. The idea is to tap into all the wisdom and gifts that the community holds, rather than rely solely on clergy. One person leads a spiritual practice and teaches it for about 7 minutes during worship and for 30 minutes beforehand. Another person, the “Reflection Leader," preaches a 5-minute reflection on the gospel and attends Bible study. The leader prepares a reflection in conversation with other members of the community and with Rev. Steph. Afterwards, he/she meets with Rev. Steph to debrief about how the experience made them feel as a Christian leader, as a prophet and teacher in community. Worship itself requires active participation of all attendees and includes discussion of the gospel reflection, singing, communion and an “open” time when people can choose from a variety of ways to connect to God. During this time, which lasts about 10 minutes, worshippers will pray together, lie down or sit and reflect, sing, dance or discuss.
People who come to The Crossing are mostly in their 20s to early-40s, with a number of older people as well. About 40% are students. The Crossing is the home church for about half its attendees. The leadership of the church is made up entirely of young adults. The majority of worshippers are of Euro-American descent, although there are a number of African-Americans, particularly in church leadership. A number of people in the community are or have been homeless or are more financially vulnerable.
Membership and Budget
Currently, following the Episcopal tradition, there is no official way to become a “member”. The community recently created a Rule of Life that will allow people to understand the goals of The Crossing and sign on as committed members. Sixty to seventy per cent of The Crossing’s funding comes from grants. Some of these are from the diocese and some are from national foundations. About one-seventh of the annual budget comes from St Paul’s Cathedral and another seventh from The Crossing community itself.
The Crossing worships every Thursday at 6pm, followed by fellowship at Fajitas and ‘Ritas, a restaurant around the corner. A community Bible study is held every other Monday at Grendel’s Den, a pub in Harvard Square, and the leadership team and small group meetings take place in members’ homes. The Crossing also holds spiritual retreats throughout the year.
Activities and Outreach
The Crossing believes one of its purposes is to be a teaching church. Consequently, they work to teach collaborative models for leadership at St. Paul’s and more widely. They host worship/learning parties for other churches from across New England and, increasingly, from across the U.S. They also welcome many “pilgrims” (visitors) who worship with them in order to learn models for church planting. In summer 2008, The Crossing worship team recorded a CD and created a teaching tool for other churches. The Crossing also participates in ministries with the homeless. There are three major ministries in which Crossing members are involved: St Paul’s Monday Lunch program, St. Francis House (a comprehensive ministry for homeless people), and Haley House, a Catholic Worker-type house where homeless and non-homeless residents live in community. Increasingly, The Crossing has been expanding its ministry with the homeless to a wider concern for poverty outside of the U.S. They have worked with the Boston Faith and Justice Network, co-sponsoring discussion about Fair Trade and a three-day action in solidarity with people who live on less than $2 a day. The three-day fundraiser included speakers, meals and worship. A third ministry that is central to The Crossing is providing welcome to LGBT people. After the Pride Parade, for example, the community conducted a special worship and blessing. More generally, The Crossing is working to spearhead relationships and provide spiritual support, particularly for young LGBT people.
The Crossing is expanding their work with the Boston Faith and Justice Network and in the queer community. They are also looking to reach out to college students, particularly those in their own neighborhood at Emerson College. Ideally, they do not want to just be a church for its own members, but an embedded part of the greater community. A major project they are working on currently is The Groovement, a movement to put heart, body and soul back into mainline churches. This project has two parts. First, recording a CD of The Crossing’s music and creating a teaching tool so that other churches can adapt it to create their own, community-driven worship. Second, The Crossing is training their own members to be Christian leaders who can then facilitate training at other churches around the country.