Matthew Chapter 25 calls us to visit those in prison and, in response, members of St. Matthew’s UMC of Valley Forge have initiated a prison ministry program. The team is working with staff at Chester County Prison to help transform the formerly rather stark visitor waiting room area into a more welcoming space for children and families. The accompanying photo shows a portion of the team with a recently purchased bookcase, containing books donated through the outreach committee’s alternative giving program. A bulletin board to display a welcoming message and sources of assistance, and baby changing stations for both rest rooms have been purchased and delivered to the prison. Plans are underway for a spiritual resources corner and magazine subscriptions for children.
The team is also exploring and learning about additional options for prison ministry. Representatives attended a Conference-sponsored prison ministry training session in September. In addition, several team members attended a training session for Thresholds, a well-organized, non-profit group which involves volunteers in teaching a course on decision making to interested inmates through group and one-on-one meetings.
Marilyn Schneider, the prison ministry team facilitator, shared that throughout her life, she had always assumed that other people (chaplains and other professionals) would somehow be responsible for prison ministry, a notion apparently shared by all of her previously attended churches. Her current involvement results from her growing realization that ordinary people should be able to, and can indeed be involved in prison ministry, just as they can be involved in other forms of outreach.
St. Matthew’s prison ministry team has found this effort to be highly educational and rewarding, and would like to encourage other congregations to join in finding ways to minister to this often forgotten segment of our society. If you or your church would like to become involved with the prison ministry team at St. Matthew’s, or would like more information on how this ministry was started, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org 610-688-7055.