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Jedediah E. C. Mannis

Died: September 9, 2019

Jed Mannis died September 9, 2019, after a long illness, survived by his wife Joyce, children Jenny ’96 and Josh, and his brother, David ’69. His activities at Yale, Elizabethan Club, Hillel Foundation, Yale Literary Magazine, Rugby, Wolf’s Head, Yale Glee Club, Apollo Glee Club, almost camouflage the conception of a remarkable second career.

After being an attorney (his first career) for some 30 years after law school (Yale), he earned a divinity degree from Harvard in 2004 and was ordained in the United Church of Christ. He cofounded the Outdoor Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts to serve the homeless and destitute.

Glean this extraordinary classmate’s journey (edited) from his book Joseph Tuckerman and the Outdoor Church:

“I grew up in a completely non-observant Reform Jewish household. My parents were classic second-generation Jews, eager to escape all things Jewish. They succeeded completely. I arrived at Yale a blank slate regarding religion.

“There I experienced and first understood faith expressed in painting, architecture, and music. Between William Buckley and William Sloan Coffin, Yale encouraged muscular, theologically conservative religious activism. Faith as aesthetic expression and mission framed a ministry thirty years later, when a friend asked me to take a tour of churches.

“An Episcopal priest, Debbie Little, had started Common Cathedral, an outdoor church for homeless people in Boston. She didn’t need more people to hand out cups of chicken soup but did need an attorney. Although a real-estate lawyer, I took on all manner of cases for the homeless. It was easy to feel heroic helping the chronically homeless escape credit card debt and defending them against income tax deficiency assessments. But I began to see that many people with a “legal” problem only wanted to tell me a story about themselves. I was willing to listen and came to think of providing such a presence as my primary purpose. I was as much a minister as a lawyer.

“On the Boston Common people walked by without seeing. Standing outdoors with my homeless clients, I too became invisible. Education, experience, family and networks of friends and colleagues counted for nothing. I decided to become an ordained minister and start an outdoor church in Cambridge.

“I read about Joseph Tuckerman, a 19th century Unitarian preacher who took his ministry to the streets of Boston and liked his willingness to start all over again when he could have retired in peace and comfort, to ponder new experiences and accept new ideas when most people avoid such challenges, and to use actual experience with the poor as the foundation of his ministry. A cogent and coherent practical theology emerged. I especially liked his seamless integration of a conservative character with a radical ministry. It made sense to me personally and theologically. I am cautious by disposition, not given to dramatic moves that might put me at variance with those whose approval I value. I want to consider my ministry entirely normal and unexceptional, as if to say: it’s not my fault that Christ’s command is so clear. I didn’t write the stuff.

“I struggle to explain what I am trying to do. Sometimes it is so terrible out there that I can’t even talk about it. Yet both the Old and New Testaments are full of people whose words fail them. Paul found courage in this very weakness. ‘…I came to you…not with excellency of speech …I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling’ (1 Cor 2: 1-5).”

To us classmates and those who worked with him, he was Jed. For his parishioners, the street folks of Cambridge, he was “Jedediah,” their pastor, who tirelessly counseled them on the street, visited them in shelters and hospitals, and offered them communion at Porter Square worship services. Although the Outdoor Church provided food, water, socks, and legal help, Jed always considered his ministry first a church, with food for the hungry homeless its sacrament.

Roger Putzel

Tom Porter remembers:

I first met Jed at a wedding of another Yalie. Jed was in a Baroque singing group, and they were singing Baroque music until Jed led the group in singing Who Wrote the Book of Love. We then became tennis buddies. But later I discovered that he was practicing law with the homeless on the Boston Common. Then I learned he was going to Harvard Divinity School, preparing to be a United Church of Christ pastor, working with the homeless. After graduation, he established the Outdoor Church of Cambridge. We ultimately designed together a course at Boston University School of Theology entitled Theology in the Streets, with half the class time indoors at the school and half on the streets of Cambridge. My students loved him and the course. One student from China stayed on for years to play the keyboard on Sundays at worship in Porter Square. Another took over much of Jed’s work after his death. I am honored to serve on his board. His parishioners still talk about how he would show up in blizzards and how he continued his work on the streets even as his health declined. I miss our monthly breakfast and rich conversation and friendship. He is one of the saints in my life.