The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Inside prison

In their praise and pain, women inmates teach me about ministry

Mary sat beside me on a metal bench in the prison yard, smiling broadly and assuring me, as she did each time I saw her, "I'm blessed, praise God!" I wasn't sure she meant it but sensed she might be lying to herself more than to me.

I met Mary early in my chaplaincy internship at the Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin, Calif., part of my training at Pacific Lutheran Seminary, Berkeley, Calif. I had started sitting in the yard or wandering self-consciously through the housing units to "find my ministry," as suggested by Hans Hoch, my supervisor and an ELCA pastor. Naively, I decided that ministry should consist of making myself available to hear the women's painful journeys and then confidently and compassionately assuring them that Jesus walked with them.

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February issue


Embracing diversity