Sunday, August 8, 2010

Prison Ministry

This is a vital ministry that the Lampstand Foundation is beginning to develop as an aspect of its work, which will be more fully realized with the publication of a book this winter, and a research paper in March of 2011.

Here is an article from the Jesuit Prison Ministry Blog about prison ministry and though we do not agree with the interpretation of some of the criminal justice elements mentioned, the article does represent the normative perception around prison ministry, which our work will hopefully be able to deepen and bring to a greater congruence with the reality of the criminal carceral world.

An excerpt.

“When I worked as the Catholic Chaplain at the Boston City Jail, I placed a mirror in the chapel with the inscription: “You are created in the image of God!” Genesis 1:27. This was to challenge the pervasive view in the prison (held by both the imprisoned and the public at large), that the inmates are of no worth. Everything I did in the prison as chaplain was based on my belief in the dignity of the prisoners and in Christ’s freeing power in our lives. The theme of Christ the liberator is the operating metaphor for my work. “If the chaplain sees the presence and suffering of Christ in the inmate, then that is what the inmate will likely see in him or herself. It will become the foundation of the inmate’s vision of a new self and a new life.”[1]

“Our God is a liberating God of love and mercy, and his love extends to everything and everyone he has created. Henry Covert writes, “God . . . frees humanity from the power of sin through transforming love . . . the birth of restoring grace is offered to the worst of sinners. Convicted felons can change, and this message must be communicated to society.”[2] These words are a critical and prophetic reminder to us who call ourselves Christian to respond as Christ would to the most despised and neglected members of our society.

“Our society has experienced an explosive increase in the use of incarceration over the last 20 years. One in every 100 adult Americans is behind bars. As our reliance on mass incarceration increased, the ideology of corrections shifted from rehabilitation to retribution. Along with this, and perhaps as a result of the increasing secularization of our culture, “the death of the rehabilitative ideal within the correctional community was paralleled by a loss of commitment to institutional chaplaincy programs, now being identified as only one of several components in a collection of treatment alternatives.”[3]

“In his essay, A New Model for Correctional Chaplaincy,[4] Dr. Thomas Beckner describes the changes that have already occurred within many Departments of Correction nationwide that have directly affected the way prison chaplains are employed and function. He also provides a clear challenge to chaplains today that is both disturbing and prophetic. What is most clear is that chaplaincy, as we have known it for decades is undergoing profound changes. If Christians wish to continue to be a meaningful presence and witness to the Gospel in prison, they will have to adapt to these changes or risk becoming irrelevant. Beckner identifies three key characteristics of 21st century correctional chaplaincies:

1. Chaplaincies will be privately funded
2. Ministry will be a collaborative effort
3. Chaplains will be trained specialists

“Given these contemporary characteristics of prison ministry, it is absolutely essential that we as Christian chaplains renew and recommit ourselves to the mission of Christ: to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” Mark 16:15 This good news, the saving message of Christ is that God’s love and mercy have triumphed over sin and despair. But to preach this message, we have to believe it and live it. That means we must hold to our values and not let our Chaplaincy be trivialized to a kind of self-help program in the prison system.”


[1]David C. Duncombe. The Task of Prison Chaplaincy: an Inmate’s View in The Journal of Pastoral Care, vol. 46, no. 2 l992, p. 195
[2] Henry G. Covert. Ministry to the Incarcerated. Chicago: Loyola Press, l995, p. xii.
[3] W. Thomas Beckner and Jeff Park,eds. Correctional Ministry and Chaplaincy in Effective Jail and Prison Ministry for the 21st Century. Charlotte, NC: COPE publishing, l998, p. 10.
[4] W. Thomas Beckner, JUS 200 Correctional Chaplaincy, course text. Taylor University: 2000.