Willimantic, once a prosperous mill town, is poor. Heroin came early – Willimantic was the 2002 star of a Hartford Courant series titled “Heroin Town.” It is better now – Willimantic is home to a diverse population with many caring people and organizations. Lots of good things happening – but the Methadone Clinic still is there – still is a lifesaver for some of our members.
Willimantic was built on a hill. Eastern University is on top and the beautiful, mostly well kept “Victorian Ladies,” where the mill bosses once lived, spill down the upper portion. Below Prospect Street the houses still are big but they’re closer together, not as ornate – or well kept – and most have been converted to multifamily rental. Valley Street runs along the base of the hill. It’s a neighborhood with some commercial activity, more older multi family rental, lots of halfway houses, sober houses, social service agencies – and St. Paul’s.
The Covenant Soup Kitchen owns what was once St. Paul’s church building and has given St. Paul’s limited use of the facility in return for a contribution to cover operating costs. The Soup Kitchen resides in the lower level as it has since its founding.
St. Paul’s has some local history: we’ve been a part of Willimantic since 1865, on Valley Street since 1883, in the present stone church since 1913. Social and economic justice issues long have been a major concern. They led to St. Paul’s founding the Isaiah 58 Ministry. Then, way back in 1981, Isaiah 58 opened the Covenant Soup Kitchen in response to factory closings. St. Paul’s nurtured the Soup Kitchen to the point where it could become an independent 501(c)(3) organization in 2006 – and then buy the church and office building from St. Paul’s (at a very favorable price) in 2008. This freed St. Paul’s to focus on ministry and not property!
Our ministry is unique for both the Episcopal Church and the community. We provide spiritual support and a bridge to and for the many local social service providers. There are very many in need, and service provision is challenging! Our ministry functions to help people in deep suffering hang on and stay connected as they try to navigate the long path to stability.
The center of our ministry is a diverse, healing community, open to all, a place where it’s safe to be yourself, where there won’t be any religious tests or coercion. Troubled or serene? Homeless? Eat at the Soup Kitchen and/or First Baptist? Have a good job or perhaps you’re in school? Out of work? Maybe (un)comfortably retired? Transgendered, lesbian, straight, gay or other? Geek, technology challenged, or somewhere in between? Addicted to something, nothing, or a lot of things? You’ll find understanding, support, healing, God’s light and love at St. Paul’s! Wherever you are in your life’s journey, you – and the gifts you’ll bring to the community – will be welcomed.