Image above: The exterior of one of 34 prisons, jails and juvenile correctional facilities in the Diocese of Central New York.
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.
Beyond the Bars: Responding to God’s Call With A Simple Act of Faith and Love
by the Rev. Dorothy Pierce, Deacon in the Diocese of Central New York
Christians, like many people across our beloved world, are called by God to tenderly care for inmates and prisoners. It is a significant part of Jesus’ mandate to us! The writer of Hebrews, in chapter 13, reminds us that “Christians should continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison.” If those words strike a chord in your heart and soul, you may be hearing a call from God to get in there and be with those in prison. That is Good News!
Then, you may ask, “Now how is it that I go about doing this? How do I faithfully answer God’s call in my life?” Before you move further forward, know this: with this stirring in your heart, you have been given a calling from God, and it is a gift!
You are called to be part of something big and important that transforms human lives as a volunteer in a jail, prison, or detention center. Our American criminal justice system holds 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 1,852 juvenile correctional facilities, as well as 3,163 jails, 80 Indian County jails, plus military prisons, immigrant detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and state psychiatric hospitals. Our country has the highest incarceration rate across the globe! And once in the criminal system, it is really difficult for a person to get out of it. Help them get out!
ALL of these facilities are filled with people who are living in pain and who have caused pain to others. Every one of these individuals is precious to God. And when God sends us out to share (or preach) the Gospel to all people, God is remembering and including those who are incarcerated.
Volunteers are needed to do this ministry! I hope that one of them is you.
Five steps to start your ministry:
Step 1: Pray
Pray about your sense of call to help care for men, women, and children who are incarcerated.
Step 2: Connect
Talk about your sense of call with your priest, deacon, district dean or someone who is involved in jail and prison ministry. Find others who may want to be part of this ministry journey alongside you. You are welcome to contact me, Deacon Dorothy Pierce, by email.
Step 3: Contact
Look at the map of incarceration facilities across our Diocese. Contact the facility near you and ask for the Chaplain’s Office.
Step 4: Apply
You may request an application which must be notarized and include a copy of your driver’s license. A background check, fingerprinting, an interview and a training session outlining security measures will follow.
Step 5: Keep the faith!
Remember that God is calling on you. Because of this call, you will be equipped to do this much-needed ministry—and to find joy and powerful meaning in it. People will be transformed through this ministry, including you. Christ is with you all the way.