Photo: Andrew Losowsky
In 2007, Ted moved downtown from Warwick, to start the Downcity Church in Kennedy Plaza. “It was a strategic decision to be around political and business leaders who influence other people. Let’s engage them with the difference Jesus can make in their life.” Ted lives in the Peerless Building, above Craftland. He is the son of a Baptist pastor, and his church is non-denominational. “I think denominational tags remove you a couple of steps away from the scripture itself.”
Joyce believes in peace. Every Wednesday lunchtime for seven years during the 1980s, Joyce stood on Westminster Street as part of a vigil “for world peace and disarmament.” Sometimes she’d be on her own, while other times, people would join her. “We stood here for years, through all different kinds of weather.” Today, she stands in vigil outside the 169th Military Police barracks in Warren. “I prefer doing a vigil by myself, as I can say ‘This is my opinion and this is my statement. What’s yours?’ Shine your own light, get a sign and pick a spot.”
Right now, Bob is “studying mysticism a lot. There’s a writer who is very fascinating to me, Caroline Myss. She’s supposed to be able to look at people and see what’s wrong with them internally. I stay open minded, sometimes you learn things that you wouldn’t think you would learn.” You can find him downtown most days. “This is my neighborhood.”
The tall red building at the junction of Westminster and Union Streets stands on the site of Providence’s First Universalist Church. Opened in 1823, on a lot that cost $2,000, it burnt down two years later. A new church was then built on the same spot, and dedicated on December 29th 1825. It contained 122 pews, and a tall wooden steeple with a clock. The congregation was around 600 people. In 1870, the land was sold to a department store for $101,500, and the church made way for the current building. The congregation built a new church a few blocks away, on Washington Street, which is still there today.
Lou believes in giving back. “It keeps me going.” In the morning, he helps to keep Westminster Street and the rest of downtown clean, while at night he is a drug and alcohol counsellor at MAP Alcohol and Drug Rehab Services on Elmwood Avenue. Twenty years ago, he got clean, and since then has been working to help others make the same step. “I love reaching out to people. You have to not judge, but try to figure out what kinds of problems people have. Some people had a good life, some had a rough life. We run from different things.”
Alissa is doing a doctorate in the philosophy of religion at Brown University, while Heidi is studying Roman religion and archaeology. Six mornings a week, they go running down Westminster Street, together with Heidi’s dog Delphi, who is named after an ancient Greek religious sanctuary. “Faith is a resource for the questions we all ask about what we’re doing, what is the meaning of life, all the big cheesy questions,” says Alissa, who used to be a journalist in New York before moving to an apartment downtown. Heidi, who lives up on the East Side, agrees, saying that “these are questions that underpin a lot of politics and history.” “And getting to sleep at night,” adds Alissa. “I’m serious!”
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when this section of Westminster Street was pedestrianized, Irene and Ada were a local fixture, playing Christian hymns on their trumpet and keyboard to passersby. They were members of the Grace and Hope Mission, and they moved to Providence from Philadelphia in 1935. They were paid a $5 weekly stipend, were celibate and would often enter local bars and restaurants, offering to pray with people. They finally left Providence in 2006, after a doctor advised them to stop their street performances. Ada died aged 88 in January 2007, while Irene died in April 2009, aged 93.
Catherine recently moved to Providence, but “you wouldn’t believe why if I told you. The good Lord sent me here. I hesitated, but He said ‘Go to Rhode Island.'” She was born in Liberia and grew up in New York City, where she worked as a banker for 25 years. She’s now studying at URI for a degree in human development and family services. “At my age, I feel it’s never too old. Nothing is impossible.”