Photo: Formerly incarcerated men and women and their friends and families gather with Deacon Dorothy Pierce (third from right) at the Broome County Council of Churches for a monthly Bible study. Pierce serves as a Discharge Planner for the Broome County Jail.
Editor’s note: A recent conversation in the diocesan staff lunchroom resulted in a project to map correctional facilities in our diocese. We then asked for reflections from folks engaged in ministry with the incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated, and their friends and families. Over the coming months, we’ll share these reflections. Have a story about ministry with the incarcerated? Send us an email.
Monday Morning Rising
by the Rev. Dorothy Pierce, Deacon in the Diocese of Central New York
Refreshed, cleansed, renewed,
We resolve to begin again.
In the summer of 2014, the Jail Ministry program at the Broome County Council of Churches in Binghamton, New York began a bible study group as part of an interfaith reentry initiative to help individuals seeking spiritual support after having been incarcerated. Now, on the third Monday of each month, a vivacious group of men and women meet with Deacon Dorothy Pierce at the Council of Churches to study scripture, pray, share personal faith stories, and enjoy some brownies and coffee around the table. An artist in the group offers creative responses the passages being studied. A poet prompts and prods the men and women to realize they (too) have surprising words and images within them to assemble into some amazing poetic structures.
The group welcomes all formerly incarcerated persons and their friends and family, and the community is growing with each monthly gathering. Together, these faithful individuals are healing and restoring one another. They recognize themselves as a strong body of people committed to demonstrating Christ’s love. “I never realized how much the stories in the Bible are about us,” said one group member.
“I never realized how much the stories in the Bible are about us.”
— a Bible study member
Introducing the Learning Communities Initiative
It felt very natural to introduce the activities of our diocesan Learning Communities Initiative to this lively and energized group of persons who are always refreshed, ready, renewed, and resolved each third Monday morning to begin life all over again! They display sheer joy in finding themselves increasingly more prepared to discover, unfold, and share the unique stories that God wants to tell through them as individuals and also as their own created assembly of believers.
Exercises like Dwelling in the Word, Listening to Others, Sharing Each Other’s Stories, and making prayer banners has given everyone in the group a deep and profound sense of accomplishment, transformation, and feeling reintegrated with new faith, new hope, new love, new stories, and a sense of new and real peace in their lives. The exercises are helping members to see themselves as contributors to a lasting faith community.
In July, Nancy Elwood from the Learning Communities Initiative Guiding Team at All Saints’ Church in Johnson City came to visit the bible study group. She had a wonderful time that day and plans to come back on a regular basis. Nancy said she could feel something very special happening that morning as prayer banners were decorated and pictures were taken. “I felt God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit breathing and present around that beautiful table,” she said. “This was a Monday morning, rising with love.”