Practicing What We Preach – Prison Ministry

Jesus said, “…I was in prison and you visited me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Excerpts from the gospel of Matthew chapter 25, verses 36 and 40)

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At Cole Harbour Woodside United Church (CHWUC) we are committed to following the teachings of Jesus Christ and each week this blog will share some of the ways that we are putting our faith into action in our community and in the world. We believe that church should not just be a place where we come on Sunday morning for an hour (or so) and then ignore everything we hear and learn until we are here again the following week. Many of us desire to come to worship each week to realign ourselves with God’s will for our lives. This is hard work in a world that works to pull us away from God’s message of abundance and love and wants to steer us in the way of scarcity and fear. To learn what God’s message might be we turn to scripture.

The Bible tell the stories of our faith and for the stories about the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ whom, as Christians, we claim to follow, we turn to what we call the New Testament. One of the ways that we follow and honour Jesus as the true head of the Church is by practicing what we preach. In the Gospel of Matthew we read that Jesus said, “…I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” To be in right relationship with God is to be in right relationship with all people.

At CHWUC we have an active Prison Ministry Team that works in partnership with other Christian churches in our area to lead a worship service at the The Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside Industrial Park in Dartmouth on a rotational schedule. Each team leads a Monday evening service in a 6-week rotation with the support of the onsite Prison Chaplain in the chapel. Joanne Chapman recently adopted the role as chair of the CHWUC team. Joanne shared with me that the worship service that she and the team create and lead is always something she looks forward to. This service is attended by an average of 7 men (at this time the women in the prison do not have access to this service). As one would expect, the worship time includes prayers and a reflection on a theme, but one of the biggest surprises for Joanne is how much they sing! “We sing A LOT,” she says, “like 9 hymns in the hour, they really like to sing!” She says the men have their favourites and come with their requests, which the team feels blessed to honour. Singing lifts the spirits and even when there is only one person brought to worship, the prison ministry team is there to support them. Being in community together is moving for everyone there.

As Joanne and I spoke, I was reminded of the hymn that says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.” When the team visits and leads worship in that space, the men that attend may be reminded that God is still with them even in their darkest hours and that is what Jesus’ example calls us to do – to bring the light of God with us wherever we go, and to bring it with intention to lift and inspire people when they are feeling low. To be a member of the Prison Ministry Team is a commitment that requires vigorous background checks and training. Jails are not safe spaces and it is a risk for everyone who enters them – visitors and prisoners alike. Those who choose to dedicate themselves to this team are truly practicing what they preach and are working as the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

(Posted by Kim Curlett – Minister of Spiritual and Pastoral Care)

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