Churches & Prison Ministry: There’s nobody like that in my church!

“So far, so good…”The sentiment echoed in the back of my mind constantly, as I surveyed the faces of others on my cell block. I felt enough shame for being a Christian in the jail. The fact that I had once pastored one of the largest churches in the county compounded the shame, and drove me to a suspicion of every other inmate as I tried to avoid an embarrassing encounter with someone who knew me. It came crashing to a halt with one word. “Pastor.”

I told the inquiring young man I did not know what he meant. The inquisition, however, had just begun.

“I used to play drums for your choir.” I did not recognize him until he told me his mother’s name. She had been on my staff.

“I am so glad you’re here!” That made one of us.

“I told God that I wanted this experience to be a changing point in my life…and if that was to happen, he needed to send someone to guide me. Now here you are!”

I do not for a second believe God sent me to jail for any reason other than to save my life. But the young man’s sentiment reflected two realities: first, that there are inmates who want to and will change if they have relationships with someone who believes in them and second, that there are a number of incarcerated people who are already connected to houses of worship.

“There’s nobody like that in my church!” So respond more than a few Christians and church leaders when I explain to them that our ministry, Healing Communities, helps congregations minister to their own members affected by incarceration.