When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, a voice came from heaven introducing and announcing him as “beloved.” Since that holy day, belovedness has marked every baptized person as known, named and cherished by God.
Yet, too often the church has been a place of condemnation and judgment for those who seek healing and solace. Especially bereft are the many at the mercy of our nation’s prison industry. But here and there, voices within the United Church of Christ call for healing and hope for these often-forgotten beloved ones.
*Reverend Phillip Reller of Arizona writes, “We are called to embody Jesus’ heart and show forth his compassion to prisoners.
It is a very practical ministry of–Incarnation–love made visible in the flesh. Being there. Ours are a new set of ears listening to immensely consequential stories which have worn thin in the retelling to familiar cell and pod mates. Ours are new conversations and new perspectives.
It is a ministry of advocacy. Being there. The men I visit are cut off by thousands of miles from their families, communities, and support systems in private for-profit prisons. They are treated as strange enemies and are foced into culturally and religiously molded programs of “rehabilitation” which strip them of their cultural identity and dignity. Visiting allows us to witness their struggle and speak as allies for rehabiitation and respectful treatment.
It is a ministry of reconciliation. Being there I have been allowed to share first-hand reports of the condition of their sons, husbands, and daddies with families who have been estranged or ashamed or in the confusion of unresolved anger and grief. Appropriate sharing can build bridges towards forgiveness and new relationships. It can calm deep anxieties. It can pave the way for connections that create positive re-entry.”
On this celebration of baptism day, be in prayer about how you can “be there” along with Reverend Reller with God’s imprisioned beloved ones.
*Reller, Phillip, “Prison Ministry,” United Church of Christ,