Holy Ground

Aug 28, 2017

By Mary Mortenson, Director Prison Congregations of America

We are just back in the office after spending a beautiful three days at the St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, which was the venue for this year’s PCA Pastors’ Retreat.  Something amazing happens when people with similar passions and intellect share physical space.  There is an energy that simply can’t be experienced in an email or a tele-conference or even a video-conference.  Whether the whole group was sitting around a table in discussion about the blessings and burdens of their work, or laughing together during mealtime or walking by twos or threes in deep discussion, the Spirit was palpable.

Following are just some of the experiences and scenes imprinted on my heart:

Early introductions were stories of calling and doubt and surprise.  So many around the circle never expected to be answering the call to ministry, let alone prison ministry, yet here they were.

Prison ministry is hard work – not for the immature or the fainthearted.  Prison pastors must find a balance in the tension of obeying prison rules while caring for their congregants, and in being respectful of other religious programming while still being true and clear about their own theological understanding.  It is critical that pastors engage in deliberate self-care, so that they can navigate within these unique tensions.

As part of the process of respecting those with whom they work, the pastors seek to understand the various cultures, ethnicities, races and gender expressions represented in their prisons.  They also seek to learn about what programs are healthy options to which they can refer congregants.

We all fell in love with Prior John who usually joined us for meals, and who delighted us with stories about the Archabbey and his life.  Many of us also attended the prayer services that were offered several times a day in the beautiful Abbey Church.  There is something settling about engaging in the evening compline when one turns one’s rest over to God.

Conversation among the pastors moved easily from stories of joy and tenderness to those of disappointment and defeat.  To have someone attend their services and get involved in worship as they dare to accept the truth that they are precious to God is as much cause for joy, as it is sadness when one is released from prison, with plans and high hopes, only to return in a few weeks.

Music and laughter and stories and prayer were present throughout the three days together, which culminated with worship and Holy Communion Sunday morning.  Pastor Gerry Rickel, Pastor Lee Schott and Pastor Paul Witmer led the service of Word, prayer, music and Sacrament.  The Gospel text was the story of the Good Samaritan about which Pastor Gerry suggested that perhaps we are called not only to stop and pull the injured one from the ditch, but we are called to get down in the ditch with the wounded one. 

An so it was, that these people of God lovingly parted company, knowing that they were going back to the ditch, for that is Holy Ground.

Category: Leadership

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