Twonna Pringle — “Pringle, like the chips,” as she introduced herself — used a walker to get to her place under the feet washing tent. After she soaked her bare feet in a warm bath for a few minutes, a volunteer began to apply an apricot exfoliant scrub, eliciting rave reviews.
Twonna was one of nearly 175 people who gathered Thursday outside Trinity Episcopal Church on the New Haven Green just as some do every Sunday as part of an outdoor ministry designed to help meet the spiritual and practical needs of the homeless or of those who are simply “not inclined to go into the church,” according to one observer.
Thursday’s event under gray and blustery skies was the seventh annual gathering outside the church celebrating Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, the Christian holy day initiating the Triduum or the period commemorating the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is observed over four days.
In addition to the outdoor church service, an array of social service and health agencies brought together by organizer Samantha Butler dispensed much needed foot care and general health information. Trinity Church Deacon for Urban Ministry Rev. Kyle Pedersen noted that many who are homeless typically walk an average of eight miles per day, necessitating the extra attention and care provided at Thursday’s event.
Special foot care and grooming packages were dispensed to event participants along with a number of gift cards earmarked for new footwear. A card in one of the packages read, “God bless these feet and direct their steps—Amen.”
Rev. Stephanie Johnson of St. Paul’s Church in Fairfield and Trinity Church parishioner Leigh Cromey passed out new pairs of socks for as long as supplies lasted.
The foot-washing ceremony and attendant activities went well beyond the symbolic ritual modeled by Christ for his disciples and especially practiced during the holy days leading to Easter. Trinity Church Rector, the Rev. Dr. Luk De Volder, said that the church is not about keeping people dependent. “It’s about empowering people,” he said. “We connect them with other services to improve their situations.”
Fair Haven Community Health Center representatives handed out toiletries, pens, and fliers about health insurance. Outreach and enrollment workers Stephanie Aybar and Carmen Camacho made it a point to talk to people about their healthcare status.
Bishop Diocesan the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas delivered a hopeful sermon, noting God’s penchant for turning things on their head: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” he said, quoting a biblical passage in Matthew 20. Earlier he explained his preference in always starting Triduum in New Haven: “I’m responsible for 168 parishes, and every year I start Triduum here. Caring for people who live on their feet is a manifestation of the goodness of God in the world. This is not simply symbolic — it’s a real foot washing and actual caring for people’s feet. … What a thought, huh?”
As some had their feet attended to, others found time to walk a nearby labyrinth, a “divine footprint” and mystical tradition which crosses cultures and religions and which was provided by the Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC) and the Spiritual Round Table, a collective of people from a variety of beliefs who want to connect to spirituality. The winding path is said to become “a mirror for where we are in our lives, a path which touches our sorrows and releases our our joys.”
For some, joy was found in a plate of hot food …
… or tasty desserts donated by Orange Street’s Romeo & Cesare, and Nica’s Market, and Insomnia Cookies on Chapel Street.
Meredith Benson, coordinator at the Bethel A.M.E. Church and Warming Center on Goffe Street, which is part of the city’s shelter overflow program, was helping with her first-foot washing at the Trinity outreach program. She said her organization, like Trinity Church, shares the concern and care for those in need: “We don’t call them clients — we call them guests.”
After the sermon, those seated were given an opportunity to publicly offer thanks and expressions of gratitude. “I’d like to give thanks for 30 days of sobriety,” said one woman. Katherine Brantley, who earlier could be heard drumming on a tattered five-gallon drum as part of a percussion ensemble, said she was “grateful for all who came out.”
The congregation responded: “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.”