The gathering grew slowly with a few people milling about. As it got closer to 2 p.m., the crowd increased; once the service began there were probably 45 people standing around the temporary altar set with flowers, a Bible, and a cross. Emotions reached a high point with shouts of hallelujah during the sermon. Communion consisted of a baguette — broken off and handed to each person — and grape juice in individual paper cups. After the service, a free bag lunch with sandwiches prepared by St. Mary’s volunteers and a beverage were distributed.

It was an eclectic gathering, for certain. One man said he’d been about to make his drug connection that morning, but he dropped his phone in the water, and it stopped working, so he attended church instead. After the service, he repeatedly shouted, “Jimmie Rae! Used to go to church every Sunday with his mama! This is where I belong!” He identified with the liturgical elements of the service, and began to smile as it sent him back to a happier time in Nashville. He relished being back in church.

Another man kept staring at my Dalmatian. I started talking to him, and when I asked him how he was, he replied, “I am okay. I am going to Walden House next week to deal with a few addictions. But whenever I think of this church service, I’ll remember your dog.”

Sometimes, at the end of Open Cathedral services, people come up to the altar and sing Amazing Grace. The service can bring ebullience to a crowd of people who are often dealing with such intense difficulties and travails in their lives. Attending Open Cathedral is simply a beautiful and inspirational experience.

We at St. Mary’s are involved as sandwich providers every three months on the third Sunday of the month. According to the Rev. Lyle Beckman, head of Night Ministry, parishioners from Grace Cathedral came to a service, fell in love with Open Cathedral, and decided to participate. The Rev. Nancy Bryan and I have called other Episcopal churches to invite their participation.