Finding the Helpers
Recently, I was in a group of seminarians when someone asked us, “Where do you find hope in dark times?” There seems to be so much going wrong in the world that even professional purveyors of hope such as those called to ministry often are can lose heart. (I could give my own litany of horrific and terrifying news, but I am sure you have your own list of injustices and atrocities weighing on your heart.)
My first response to this questions was to quote Fred Rogers, one of my personal heroes, who says, in times of disaster “to look for the helpers” in any situation. In natural disaster, look for the helpers. In the face of intolerance and zenophobia, look for the helpers. When another young person dies for simply walking while black, look for the helpers. When religious intolerance threatens to tear holes in our social fabric, look for the helpers. When lamenting the formidable prison-industrial pipeline, look for the helpers.
Not everything can be fixed, but these things that can’t be fixed can be carried. This is why we look to the helpers, to see how they carry their grief and pain and transform it into something beautiful—a way to bless and heal both individual lives and the collective life of the planet.
When I look for the helpers at the CLF, I see too many to list. Rev. Meg Riley’s prophetic witness and our participation in the #UUWhiteSupremacyTeach-in come to mind, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. We are a church staffed by helpers of all stripes. But I think some of the most important helpers at the CLF are Prison Ministry Director, Mandy Goheen, and all the volunteers who offer support to the CLF’s incarcerated members, both as pen pals and in other ways. Right now, there are nearly 800 incarcerated persons being served by the CLF’s prison ministry, and this program is still growing! As a result of the powerful success of this program, we are looking for new ways to partner with congregations who want to help with this work.
The CLF’s prison ministry recently received a grant to expand our prison ministry by creating the Worthy Now Prison Ministry Network, and one of the things we’ll be doing is training volunteers from congregations to serve as prison visitors. There will be three components of the prison visitor training program:
- Online education in antiracism and anti-oppression training, interfaith dialogue, pastoral care and compassionate communication, and practical help navigating the prison system as a visitor
- Support Circles, an online small group program for prison visitors to share and process their experiences in a confidential and pastoral environment
- An e-newsletter for prison visitors that will include continuing education, inspiration and support in their work
This year, we’ll begin this program with a few pilot congregations and hope to expand it to all interested congregations in the coming year.
The injustice that permeates the criminal justice system will not be undone by any individual act, but by many small acts, many helpers. And even if we cannot, on our own, change the system that puts so many people into prisons, we can forge relationships with those who are incarcerated, and offer them support in their spiritual journeys. For many incarcerated CLF members, these connections to other UUs are life saving and life-sustaining, and in a system that is designed to reduce people into numbers, connections to the free world are a vital link, not to mention a spiritual lifeline. There is a hunger for spiritual nurture that is fed through the CLF’s prison ministry, and it is a great gift to me to be able to help that program grow.
Won’t you be a helper too? If your congregation is interested in the CLF prison visitor program, contact Mandy Goheen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Written by Sarah Pricket, 2016-17 CLF Learning Fellow