Crossroads' cloak

Flagship outreach ministry in the Diocese of Michigan relocates
January 30, 2008

Two years after the 1967 uprising that shattered the city of Detroit, a young priest arrived at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul to encounter a man on the street who approached the towering cut-stone, neo-Gothic building and wondered, "maybe someone in there will care."

The priest -- Jim McLaren -- began to hear the question with regularity and in a variety of ways, so much so that in 1971, he began a social service ministry called Crossroads in the Cathedral's former bookstore. For 36 years, the ministry has trained legions of volunteers from a variety of faith backgrounds to conduct one-on-one interviews with the poorest of the poor from the streets of Detroit.

From its founding, its patron saint St. Martin of Tours, the 4th century Roman soldier who cut in half his cloak to share with a beggar, has inspired the ministry of Crossroads. Just as St. Martin recognized in a dream that it was Jesus wrapped in the remnant cloak, McLaren and the volunteers who followed sought to see the face of Jesus in whoever knocked at the door.

When Crossroads added a soup kitchen in 1975, it left the Cathedral for an old house around the corner. Eight years later, it moved again, into a brick church building that the Cathedral acquired after the Lutherans and then the Baptists moved out.

Crossroads added an eastside Detroit office that includes a job training office, housed in the storefront of a now-closed Episcopal Church.

As the ministry of Crossroads was moved from one site to another in the Cathedral's neighborhood, the particular building was never of great concern.

Again in the spirit of St. Martin, Crossroads remained less committed to the cloak it wore than the cross it bore. "Through it all," McLaren said as the time of his 1993 retirement as director, "we have tried to minister in the same sort of way. We try to get behind the symptoms that bring people to our doorstep and try to find out who's really there."

The staff and more than 100 volunteers conducted 11,000 individual appointments last year and distributed $45,000 in prescription medicines, $40,000 in local bus fares, $30,000 in essential state identifications, and $12,000 in emergency assistance.

Over the past decade, as the Cathedral Church of St. Paul has been a catalyst for economic renewal of its Detroit neighborhood,
the social service agency that was born at its front door has prepared to relocate. This month, after the success of a $2 million capital campaign, Crossroads settles into a completely renovated building that will accommodate its ministry of personal counseling, crisis intervention and job training from nine semi-private counseling carrels.

The new building will triple the seating capacity of Crossroads Sunday soup kitchen that now averages 800 guests per week. Seventeen different Episcopal churches host 21 Sundays a year in the scheduled rotation. The new building also has a small chapel that both volunteers and clients will use.

McLaren died two years ago this month, but the ministry that he envisioned continues. As the present executive director -- Jim McLaren's daughter, Mary McLaren Honsel -- explained on moving day, "it's not the building that's important. It is caring about and loving each client who comes to the door and seeing the face of Jesus in each one."

For nearly 40 years, Crossroads has stood in Michigan as a unique ministry, drawing the haves into contact with the have-nots in an exchange that petitions the transformation of both.

With its new building standing as a sign of ongoing urban development in the Diocese of Michigan, Crossroads strives to answer the same question that launched the ministry a generation ago. Will someone in there care?

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