Open Cathedral – Civic Center

Open Cathedral came into being to bridge the gap that people living on the streets felt between their discomfort at attending traditional walled churches, and their desire to attend and participate fully in worship.  They asked the Night Ministry to provide a safe and friendly worship service for them.  We looked at the success of a number of outdoor worship services across the country and knew we could respond positively.  We also knew that this would create new opportunities for members of congregations to extend outreach by offering a meal and having meaningful individual conversations in the context of direct service.

For a short while in the late 1960s, the Night Ministry offered a worship service at 2:00 a.m., but numbers were too low to stay viable.  So, on Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008, Open Cathedral – Civic Center was born.  We gather each Sunday at 2:00 p.m. on public space near City Hall.  This worship service includes praying and preaching, readings and singing, and a celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Communion).  This is followed by a lunch donated by a congregation or civic organization, and time for the same pastoral care, counseling, and crisis intervention that is offered each night.

On average 75 people gather for worship and 150 lunches are distributed each Sunday.

Open Cathedral – Castro

As an outgrowth of a similar weekly outdoor worship service in the Castro neighborhood that was begun in November, 2009 with moderate success, the Rev. Diana Wheeler helped to focus our efforts on partnering with other organizations and coordinating special events in that neighborhood.  These include the distribution of ashes each Ash Wednesday, a procession of palms each Palm Sunday, caroling each Christmas Eve, and candlelight vigils to remember Harvey Milk, George Moscone and others who have died who are associated with the LGBTQ communities. 

Open Cathedral – Castro is also a virtual community for more than 800 people.  We maintain a page on Facebook and other social media sites which offer inspirational stories, updates on events happening in the Castro neighborhood, and the opportunity to request prayers each week. 

Open Cathedral – Mission

On May 19, 2011, our third Open Cathedral began.  The Rev. Monique Ortiz was eager to duplicate the success of Open Cathedral – Civic Center, but this time as a bi-lingual English-Spanish worship service.  Open cathedral – Mission meets each Thursday at 5:30 p.m. outside the 16th Street and Mission BART station.  We offer a meal and time for private conversation, prayer, and crisis intervention after each worship service. 

On average, 50 people gather for worship and 100 meals are distributed each Thursday.

At each Open Cathedral we meet people where they are in their own lives, invite them to participate at any level of comfort, and turn no one away.  Our goal is to build communities that reflect the basic Christian values of love for one another and service to the world, while supporting and encouraging people on their own spiritual journeys.  Attendance at worship is not required to receive a meal or private conversation, and often the busy outdoor marketplace settings expose the stark contrasts of life in the church and life in the world.  While people are praying, singing, and reflecting on words being preached, they can also sometimes see acts of violence, abuse, and other realities of life on the city streets occurring nearby. Yet, each week faithful people gather together.  Each Open Cathedral has been blessed by attracting an active usher corps – regular attendees who help set up for worship, greet people as they arrive, and supervise the meal serving; and faithful people who prepare and bring food to be shared.  People who come from traditional walled churches are often moved by the experience they find.  In their hospitality and serving, they become examples for us all. 

by Amy Nachman, The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, San Francisco

I worked on Market Street in San Francisco for 15 years. I looked at the plethora of homeless people on the sidewalks and always felt sad about their circumstances. After all, they were someone’s son or brother. Many others had a far less compassionate response filled with disdain. I always looked at them and smiled, gave a few dollars to musicians, and brought them Christmas cookies when my office was overflowing with goodies sent to us from vendors.

The Rev. Nancy Bryan’s announcement of our church’s involvement with Open Cathedral resonated with me. She said it was an outdoor church service in the Tenderloin every Sunday at 2 p.m. rain or shine. I was anxious to attend a service. I went with my Dalmatian and my sister. My Dalmatian is a thoroughbred ex-show dog who gets a lot of attention, and my sister is in private corrections and works with addicted, homeless ex-felons helping them re-enter the community by offering computer and literacy classes.

The Open Cathedral service is run by the San Francisco Night Ministry, an organization with whom St. Mary’s is affiliated. Our Outreach Granting Team donates money to the Night Ministry and our parishioners donate homemade sandwiches for Open Cathedral. Night Ministry phone line counselors do important work for troubled people in the middle of the night with an all-night crisis phone line and with ministers who make visits on the streets. It was interesting attending our 8 a.m. service and their 2 p.m. service in the same day. Though the parishioners are quite different — and Open Cathedral’s minister had a far sassier delivery — the message and its effect were the same. The story of the Prodigal Son moved the gathering of homeless people just as deeply as it had touched our congregation earlier in the day at St. Mary’s.

HOSPITALITY for Open Cathedral – Civic Center

Thank you for your interest in Open Cathedral and the San Francisco Night Ministry. The people we serve are grateful for even the smallest token of hospitality, and always respond well to a smile and kind word. We hope that you are able to join us and share with the folks a simple meal and some words of encouragement and love.


Open Cathedral began as an extension of the work of the San Francisco Night Ministry on Easter Sunday (March 23), 2008. Since then we have gathered weekly regardless of weather and other activities happening in the area.

Time and Location

We gather each Sunday at Leavenworth and McAllister streets near United Nations Plaza. Worship is scheduled to begin at 2:00 PM. Set up begins at 1:45 PM. The altar is set on the concrete slab near the Art Academy. Folks make themselves comfortable on chairs, the lawn or areas nearby. Food is kept in cars until after the final blessing.  When everyone has lined up appropriately, and the altar has been cleared of worship items, lunch is placed on the table that has served as the altar and served.  We are usually finished with worship and serving and clean up by 3:45 PM.

Parking and Unloading

Most often parking is easy to find within a few blocks of our location.  Please remember to feed parking meters. One car that holds the lunch can be driven right up onto the walkway there.  Double parking on the streets with flashers on for a quick unloading is not advised. For those taking Public Transportation, use the Civic Center stops. Walk toward the fountain at U.N. Plaza and turn north toward Leavenworth.




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