Dec 23, 2015

Cabinet emulates Matthew 25:36

The terrible human cost of high incarceration rates–among the highest in the world–became a critical concern in 2015 for U.S. politicians, the media and other social critics, even prompting an historic first-time visit to a prison by a sitting U.S. President, Barack Obama. The United Methodist Church has shown heightened concern as well, led by prison ministry groups and boards of Church and Society across the connection.

Meanwhile, the Eastern PA Conference’s Prison Ministries & Restorative Justice Team conducted its first Healing Communities training for local church outreach teams in October. And in December it delivered to local jails and prisons about 5,000 morale-lifting Christmas cards signed by church and conference members for distribution to inmates.

DS Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm and Bishop Peggy Johnson, with inmateThe Conference Cabinet also did its part this month with a half-day of visitation at the Chester County Prison’s Correctional Center and the nearby Chester County Youth Center in West Chester, Pa. And it was not a mere walk-through visit, but instead, the Cabinet’s annual, end-of-the-year in-service mission project.

Bishop Peggy Johnson and her six District Superintendents, along with the Conference’s Lay Leader, Treasurer and Communications Director, first met with Correctional Center Manager George Roberts. They were then joined by about a dozen female inmates for over an hour of fellowship and shared ministry.

Hand-made pillowsThe center’s visitation room was abuzz as Cabinet members and inmates, seated together at separate and conjoined tables, engaged in light conversation, laughter and for some, a bit of personal testimony.

Their shared ministry was literally hands-on, as they paired up to create handmade, decorative pillows to be donated to residents of the nearby Pocopson Home, Chester County’s long-term healthcare facility, where residents receive medical, nursing and rehabilitative services.

Inmate writing chosen scriptureThey worked on multicolored fabric pieces, tying together pre-cut fringes according to instructions and then stuffing the pillows with polyester fill. The inmates then wrote personal greetings on note cards, sometimes using favorite scriptures, and signed and attached them to the pillows.

As each team showed its colorful handiwork, the room seemed to glow with gleeful pride. The singing–and yes, signing–of Christmas carols followed, before a heartfelt benediction and the departure of both groups…one to leave, the other to stay.

Several completed pillowsBut the Correctional Center is a Pre-Release and Work Release facility, separate from the main prison. Thus, these inmates are preparing for their expected departures from incarceration, no doubt hoping to never return.

As for the pillows, the United Methodist Women of Grove UMC, which pre-cut the fabric, delivered them the following week to grateful Pocopson Home residents.

Before leaving, the Cabinet also went next door to receive an informative, in-depth, enthusiastic tour of the Chester County Youth Center from Director Gary Blair. The impressive facility provides supervision and programs for adjudicated youth, from ages 10 to 21, including secure onsite detention, electronic home monitoring, an evening reporting center, a shelter for female youth and respite care.

The center offers its youth case management services, classroom instruction, drug and alcohol assessments, family visitation, recreation, medical and dental care, and psychological and religious counseling. It is also an institutional model, according to Blair, for its compliance with the rules of the groundbreaking U.S. Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), enacted in 2003.

Chester County Youth Center

Group PhotoConference Prison Ministries & Restorative Justice Team Chair Marilyn Schneider and Southeast District Superintendent Dawn Taylor-Storm arranged and facilitated the Cabinet’s visits. Joining them were Bishop Johnson, Superintendents Anita Adams Powell, Tracy Bass, Irving Cotto, Gary Nicholson and Bum Koo Chung, and Conference Lay leader David Koch, Treasurer Jim Cruickshank and Communications Director John Coleman.

By John Coleman
Eastern PA Conference Communications Director

Group photo (from left): Front: Marilyn Schneider, Bishop Peggy Johnson and the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm. Middle: Irving Cotto, Anita Adams Powell, David Koch and Correctional Center Manager George Roberts. Back: Gary Nicholson, Tracy Bass, Bum Koo Chung and Jim Cruickshank.   John Coleman photo