We thank God for the privilege of being involved in ministry to the folks who are at Chester County Prison. It was in 1978 when Doug Burnette, a parishioner of mine, asked me if it would be possible for him to “go back to prison.”
Doug says there was a time in his life when he needed to be in prison. He says when he was a younger man with his explosive anger problem he needed to be in prison because he was “out of control.” But Doug’s life took a change for the better-much better. In 1966 as an inmate at CCP he would listen to what one pastor would say on Tuesday and compare it with what another pastor would say on Saturday. He said, “Thank God they agreed.”
As Doug heard the good news of Jesus’ ability to change a life, the pastor said, ”You don’t have to live the way you are. God can change your life.” Doug thought to himself, “If it is true as the pastor says I can have a new life and ‘it works’ then I am so much better. If it ‘doesn’t work’ then no one needs to know I tried It and it didn’t work.” Doug accepted God’s forgiving grace and thus began a real life change-yes, with its ups and downs, successes and failures, but one nevertheless committed to the saving grace of a loving Lord.
After Doug had been out of prison for eight years, he wanted to “go back to prison” to help other believers in Christ to experience the same life change he had. Thus, Onesimus Prison Ministries had its beginning with Doug serving as the chaplain at Chester County Prison. Thirty four years later we are so grateful for the continuing ministry of Peter Roomet and Lil Anthony who carry on the “ministry of presence” at CCP.
But most of the people in prison will “serve their time” and will return to our communities-some will “make a life change” and return with a desire to do well. Far too many will continue the same destructive life patterns only to “return once again to prison.” One of the questions with which those involved in prison ministry wrestle is, what happens when someone is released from prison? Keith Brooks, who serves on the Onesimus Ministries Board, is the one in whom the “passion for aftercare” has burned the hottest. He worked hard to match up a person being released with a pastor of a church who would welcome him to the loving support of a Christian community. Keith laments there are relatively few churches in Chester County who are willing to be such “welcoming communities.”
Those involved in the ministry of welcoming into our church families men and women who are coming out of prison know the challenge of helping persons develop new friendships, new habits, new hopes, accepting new responsibilities to continue the walk of discipleship with Christ. It has been so rewarding to see men and women who come to know the life changing grace of God to be welcomed and absorbed into the fellowship of God’s people and do well. It is disappointing when men and women chose not to walk in faithful discipleship.
We would welcome other faith communities to be part of the network of supporting churches -prayer support- absolutely, financial support-so essential, but more than that-being a community of faith who will “open the circle” to welcome new believers who are wanting to walk in the fellowship of the good news of God’s redeeming grace. We describe this ministry as “aftercare.” We know the spiritual support and fellowship so essential while in prison is equally important when a person is released back to our community. We ask for your prayers for the critical ministry of “aftercare.”