by Keith Wiglusz
Christmas in Prison: Bears For Christmas !
I think of this more than anything during the Christmas season while incarcerated.
My first Christmas in prison my two daughters were ages 8 and 9. I was very active in their lives before I fell and we were very close especially at Christmas time. This very first year of incarceration they came to see me. “Seeing me behind razor wire for them would be harsh and sad,” is all I had going through my head. My wife and I had made the decision to stay together when I fell and see if we could actually stay together. I had my doubts but she insisted that I at least should see my girls no matter what. Now the big test was upon me on this very first Christmas day with them walking into a prison with all the razor wire only to see their dad in tan scrubs.
Last year, Prison Lectionary launched with daily Advent devotions by our friend Matthew Harper. Since last year, Matthew has revised or rewritten those reflections, added some new materials, and compiled it all into his latest book. You can purchase it in Kindle or print format here.
Here’s a sneak peek from the forward:
There are countless books available on Advent, but this one is different. The devotions and reflections were written by a man in his eighteenth year of incarceration. In prison, faith and time take on new meaning. During Advent – this season of expectation – open yourself to the unexpected as Matthew Harper shares a bit of his story with you. Although his perspective is unique, you might just find that you have a great deal in common.
by Dean Faiello
As I lined up with other prisoners in a brick passageway, six Attica guards huddled in a group, wearing blue latex gloves and gripping wooden clubs. They stared at us as we waIked in pairs through the sepulchral corridor without speaking, like Franciscan monks on their way to vespers. Heading to a Quaker meeting in the school building, I looked forward to talking with the Quaker volunteers, witnessing their compassion, learning more about Quaker tenets.
INSIGHTS, 17 YEARS IN PRISON
by Matthew B. Harper
A month ago I met with two wonderful clergy, and our conversation meandered into fruitful territory. An important conversation, it was also the kind you can’t prepare for. So when our wandering words brought us to an important precipice, and I was invited to jump off, I quailed. Seventeen years of incarceration and over thinking about my crimes has led me to an untold number of insights and revelations so imagine my regret when, after being invited to share some, I failed at the task.
This sermon, by Matthew Harper, was read during a worship service at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Chesterfield, Virginia, on Sunday, August 14, 2016.
Prison is a terrible place. The purpose of prison is for it to be a terrible place. Where there are problems in our world our justice system seeks out the offenders and send us here. We are sent here to protect society, to punish us, and perhaps to give us space to repent and grow.
Prison is full of people. Each prisoner is a person full of good and bad, carrying wounds and inflicting them. We too have our hopes and dreams, as well as sorrows and regrets. Some of us are redeemed, some not, and all struggle with addictions, pride, loneliness, and sorrow. We are beautiful and amazing, and also completely messed up. We are all too human.
Continue reading the full sermon on St. David’s website here.
Apostolic Letters from Prison
In the book Ministry with Prisoners & Families: The Way Forward, Madeline McClenny-Sadler writes
“What would the apostle Paul do if he heard about the mistreatment of brothers and sisters who return to our congregations and communities after being released from prison? I think we know exactly what Paul would do. Paul would write a letter!” (140)
Thus, McClenny-Sadler offers a “Letter to African American Churches Concerning the Saints Coming Home from Prison.” It uses “the hybrid style of a Pauline epistle and a scholarly article” as a call to action (ibid.)
Inspired by her letter, several PrisonLectionary.net contributors take up the same task. The first comes to us from “EB .”
by Matthew B. Harper
1 Corinthians 13:2 – And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith… but do not have love, I am nothing.
In prison I see what some people call “Christianity” in the way that they despise prisoners. They are quick to cut freedoms, programs, opportunities, and education. They scorn prison ministry as a waste of time. They believe that the Christian focus for prison has to be the ‘eye for an eye’ that appears in the Old Testament.
But in prison I have also found true Christianity. I have seen it in the work of the men and women who come into the prisons to teach the faith, to lift up the men to better lives, and to love them as God does. These people believe that the basis for ministry in prison is ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” These people are not on any crusade to free prisoners from prison, just to free them from despair and sin.
Which side are you on? We are commanded to test all things by the spirit, and we are warned that many will come to us preaching the name of Christ, and they will be false messengers. We are taught to judge what is proclaimed by the fruit that it bears. The true work of God in the prisons brings forth repentance and newness of life. It brings forth not only clean and godly living on the outside, but it brings forth peace and joy. That is the true work of God.
Whatever your knowledge, whatever your faith, whatever your politics, whatever you have, do, or are; if you do not act out of love, then all else is as nothing.
“That it may please thee to visit the lonely: to strengthen all who suffer in mind, body, and spirit; and to comfort with thy presence those who are failing and infirm We beseech thee to hear us good Lord” BCP 151
by Matthew B. Harper
Mark 7:28 – But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children‘s crumbs.”
Prison ministry is unpopular. It isn’t often thought of, and the few people who decide to work in it often approach it with fear and apprehension. We are always hard pressed to raise donations and to find willing volunteers. We gladly settle for the ‘crumbs’ from the regular ministries. I am writing this on a used donated computer, work in a library full of used donated books, and play music on a used donated guitar. The music is at least a joyful noise to the Lord.
Jesus came to minister to the sick, the friendless, and the needy. Jesus did not come for the healthy; he came as a physician to heal the sick. Who were the children that this lady spoke of? The Gentiles. Us.
In prison ministry or any other, spend your time ministering to those people who most need it, not those who you think most deserve it.
Please remember prison ministry and other non-traditional ministries when you make your tithe of money and time. Even small gifts of yours, or a short period of your time, can make a profound impact on the life of another.
“That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the bountiful fruits of the earth, so that in due time all may enjoy them, We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” BCP 151