Is Your Church Called to Prison Ministry?
Our faith calls on us to treat every person with dignity, including those in our prisons, halfway homes, and detention centers. Oftentimes, these are the individuals most in need of dignity and compassion. The prison system can be a painful and damaging process for an inmate and his or her family.
The following tips come from Roz Hall, who helped found the prison ministry at Trinity Wall Street in New York City. They were shared in the Spring 2011 issue of Trinity News: The Magazine of Trinity Walls Street.
1. You don't have to reinvent the wheel
A prison ministry begins with education. Invite prison chaplains and other educational and advocacy groups to visit your church and share their knowledge. Your congregation will learn from their stories and be inspired, too.
2. Look at the stats
With just a little research, it's likely you'll find statistics about crime and prisons in this country, and possibly your community, that will help you understand how many problems there are - and how varied prison ministries can be. An example: in New York City, seven neighborhoods contribute more than half of the state's prison population.
3. There are so many ways to be involved
Writing letters to prisoners, Advocating for those in prison. Working to change laws that punish the formerly incarcerated. Working to prevent young people from ever entering the prison system in the first place. These are just a few of the ways to define prison ministry. What would it look like in your community?
4. Talk, talk, and more talk
Discernment is key. Discerning your prison ministry in community can take some time, and that's okay. You may find that there are areas that, as a church, you're called to work in, and that there are some ways of doing prison ministry that individuals feel called to.
5. You don't have to do it alone
As you begin to learn about prisons in your area, you'll likely discover other churches, programs, and groups who are working in the same areas you are. Why not work together? You'll learn from each other, and the work will be more effective, too.
6. There will be ups and downs
And its worth it. Prison ministry has it ups and downs, but you'll find that in the long run, it's very rewarding. The people you're working with - those in prison, those recently released, their families - are grateful for the support, even if your ministry is just one of presence.
7. Educate others in turn
You've learned about crime statistics. You and your church have discerned what areas of prison ministry you're called to work in. You've made partnerships. Now why not share what you've learned with others in your community?
Learn more about Prison Ministry