Tonight I participated in the winter conference call of the Prison Congregations of America board of directors. We have financial challenges, as many nonprofit organizations after the Great Recession. But the ministry we support — supporting the creation of worshipping communities of faith within prison walls — is growing.
PCA began in 1984, after a white Lutheran pastor named Ed Nesselhuf was called to serve as chaplain in a women’s prison in Maryland where most of the inmates were black. The Lord, they say, works in mysterious ways.
And so the Lord did. By the work of the Spirit, PCA has grown today to include congregations in 11 states, with a twelfth congregation under development in Montana.
One of my fellow board members is Rich Rienstra, who started a prison congregation in Michigan. He shared with the board news of a new report about the value of visiting prisoners. The report showed showed that visiting people in prison can help reduce reoffense rates after their release.
Rienstra cited Pat Nolan of Prison Fellowship Justice Fellowship as his source for this information. When I googled it, however, I found that the recidivism report was actually done by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. It was released in November 2011.
The title of the study is studiedly objective in tone: “The Effects of Prisoner Visitation on Offender Recidivism.” For Christians, though, the subtext is clearly Matthew 25, where Jesus urges us to visit those imprison and promises to be found there.