A Plethora of Paradoxes

Jul 30, 2017

By Rev. Terry Schjang, pastor at New Beginnings Worshipping Community in the Denver Women's Correctional Facility

When are we the host, and when the visitor?  When the stranger, and when the welcome insider?

To experience worship inside a prison is to experience a plethora of paradoxes.  We come to proclaim freedom through the grace of Christ; and we come to a place that exists for the purpose of confinement.  Those who are often most in need of the meal are those restricted from receiving this sacramental gift.  We come bearing gifts in a facility that for decades has focused on punitive deprivation rather than the restorative bestowal of love freely given.

Within this conundrum of paradoxes, the surprising gifts of host and visitor, stranger and insider never cease to delight this pastor as signs of God’s presence (and sense of humor) in prison—a place too often left unexperienced by God’s children.  Yes!  What a shame to miss the mighty and beautiful paradoxes happening there…

Last evening, I brought ten trays of Chinese food into the prison, I out-counted thirteen women who comprise the Inside Church Council of New Beginnings during count, set up tables in our worship space, and went to the lobby to pick up our guests from an outside church who helps to support us.

Those of you unfamiliar with prison may ask, and?  Well, first, it is no easy task to bring outside food into a prison.  Second, it is no easy task to get the Shift Commander to let a pastor keep thirteen women out of their “rooms” while the prison population is counted.  Third, it is only by the inmate’s ingenuity born of necessity that we turned the space into a welcoming place of beauty.  But the fourth is most noteworthy.  

Our guests who are in many ways our hosts as they help to support us, came from a distance with no expectation except that they’d probably eat in the Chow Hall with many inmates.  They came with their pastor.  The stranger/inmate/now hosts stood behind the buffet table to offer assistance.  The stranger/now hosts prayed for all.  The inmates/now momentarily free children of God presented hand-made gifts of flowers and paper fortune cookies with scripture “fortunes” inside.  

As everyone broke bread together and shared their stories, there were no longer any strangers.  All were welcome insiders, and one pastor who shall remain nameless forgot herself and hugged everybody!

 “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.[…] As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.  But they urged him strongly, saying ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’  So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at the table wth them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”   Luke 24:15-31 NRSV

Category: Miracle

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