Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
[Peter]motioned to them to be silent, and described for them
how the Lord had brought him out of prison.
In Acts 12, Peter is miraculously brought out of prison by an angel. Peter’s chains fall off his wrists and he passes through the iron gates. He goes to the house where the disciples are gathered, and shares his good news.
When I asked for information about prison ministry in our diocese, Bill Lewellis sent me a wonderful article by Dawn Pentecost, from Trinity Church, Carbondale. I share her story of mutual ministry with prisoners, with Dawn’s permission. It begins in June, 2006, when Trinity Church was flooded by the Lackawanna River, and the members of the congregation, who were without a rector, were feeling overwhelmed:
That was when the work-release team from Waymart State Correctional Institute stepped in and took over.
Earlier in the year, the SCI Team had been at the church to help us clean away bamboo that was taking over the churchyard and the parking lot. The team came back to help us with painting the church hall, and again to help us varnish the wood paneling, pews, and doors in the church itself. The women of the church had been interacting with the SCI work release team, feeding them breakfast, snacks, and lunch. The women and the workers came to know each other on a first-name basis and looked forward to seeing each other the next time they came to help out at the church.
One woman mentioned that the workers were about the same age as her son. But by the grace of God, it could have been her son. Sometimes, the work release team members varied. One worker from SCI was heard telling a new addition to the work team as they walked through the church that “this was their church.” It made the people at Trinity feel so proud to know that these men had such a respect and kinship with us.
So, two days after the flood, after contacting Waymart SCI to see if they would be able to help us with the cleanup, the SCI work-release team showed up. They actually had other jobs scheduled for that time, but knowing what a state we were in, they did not want to make Trinity wait for help in cleaning up. They hauled garbage out of the cellar, all the ruined appliances and lawn machines, filling the dumpsters in the parking lot. They cleaned and disinfected the two flooded cellars. While cleaning and disinfecting inside the crawl space, they found a leak in a sewer pipe. Trinity had a sewer problem for years. We could never find where the problem originated. Now we were able to fix the sewer problem as well as our heating problem.
The women looked forward to hosting the work crew, and the work crew looked forward to coming to the church. The mood at the church began to become much more hopeful as the workers were able to complete the much needed cleaning. Other buildings on the same street were declared uninhabitable due to toxic mold from the flood, but Trinity was clean and free from mold, thanks to the hard work of the SCI crew. The women were busy baking and cooking to reward the workers for the hard work. The workers in turn felt very protective of the church and wanted to do the best job that they could.
As a church community, we would like to think that we were able to minister to the SCI work team. “You may be the only Gospel that someone else reads,” some have said. Hopefully we ministered by example to the SCI work crew. However, the benefits of their ministry to us far outweigh what we gave in return. It is indeed humbling to be ministered to in such a way as the SCI crew ministered to us, when under normal circumstances you would expect that it would be the other way around.
Have you had the experience of being ministered to by the person you thought you were helping?