Regaining our Souls By Going Where the Hurt Is
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
As is already apparent to you this issue of The Current continues to prick our thinking about Risk-Taking Mission and Service. The particular ministry focus is Prison Ministry. I am delighted. The more I thought about how I would use this space I recalled that I had written a book foreword a few years ago on this very subject. As you read the next five paragraphs please keep in mind that what you have verbatim is a book foreword the title of which is in the next paragraph. What follows does indeed represent some of my convictions and struggles on the subject at hand. I commend the book, its foreword and the focus of this issue of The Current to you.
“I am honored and humbled to have been asked to offer the foreword to I Was In Prison: United Methodist Perspectives on Prison Ministry. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is greatly wise in commissioning this volume. The editors and authors have given the church a great gift in this book that passionately, knowledgeably and skillfully call the church to see and to pay attention to what and whom we might otherwise be more comfortable in ignoring.
In the main, church leaders (including, if not especially, bishops) and churches have lost sight of our vocation to engage those who are in prison, the victims of their crimes, and the laws, policies and practices of the criminal justice system. As I read through this book, I thought this piece was both long overdue and yet right on time. It is long overdue in the sense that there is far too much material available to us church folk about how to be more appealing so we can get people who are just like us inside our doors. But it is right on time because as a church, both obsessive and compulsive about our decline and anxious about our institutional future, I Was in Prison calls us afresh to regain our souls by going where the hurt is and casting our lot with the most vulnerable.
This book did not make me feel good about myself and practice of my discipleship and ministry. For that matter, after reading it, I did not feel all that great about the church. My – and our – derelictions and delinquencies have been exposed and laid utterly bare. But feeling good is not what this book is about. Its aim, in my judgment, is to awaken the church called United Methodist to the gospel and to our Wesleyan roots. And while, on the first blush, in reading these pages you too might not feel good, you will find yourself hopeful that we can be different as church and, in so being, do differently.
The authors adroitly provide us with helpful and needed biblical, theological, sociological and ecclesial background. The paths they lead us down are generously supported with careful documentation and roadmap for further delving into prison ministry and restorative justice. This background assists us in seeing more clearly. But, when all is said and done, the authors and editors warn us, where we lack is in the doing. I invite you to join me in this doing.
The mission of The United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” [Book of Discipline – 2008,¶120]. I boldly suggest that the current volume will assist us in being conformed to this mission. And in the process we might just be made true disciples who join God in the transformation of the world that God loves so much.”
Your servant in Christ Jesus,
Gregory Vaughn Palmer
By: Bishop Gregory V. Palmer On 1/25/2012
Topics: Prison ministry