New Beginnings: Prison Ministry

Have you ever been to worship somewhere and people were actually emotionally vulnerable? Did you witness others praising God with their hands in the air, tears in their eyes, smiling uncontrollably? I recently attended the most open worship of my life, and to do that I had to go to prison.

Okay, so I did not actually go to prison, but I had the opportunity to worship at New Beginnings, a mission congregation in the Denver Women's Correctional Facility. When you walk into the building, one guard greets you to take your drivers license, hands you a badge and directs you to log into the visitor's sheet. Then you go through an airport scanner and wait for someone with a "green" clearance to escort you to the worship space. Next, a series of locked gates await and a security guard must buzz you through each one. Finally, you've made it.

Pastor Terry greeted me and told me some ground rules: only share your first name and job position. She then showed me the yard, from which we could see the various buildings that inmates lived, worked, ate, etc. in. It was actually pretty cool -- a cooking program allowed inmates to gain culinary skills and become employable upon release; a cosmetology program lets the women get degrees in hair and makeup, sometimes even before they are released; a dog-training program lets women have the large responsibility of training puppies in their early days for future owners on the outside.

As the women left the "chow hall" and headed toward the chapel building, we greeted them. Shaking hands, them and I smiled at each other. We exchanged (first) names and pleasantries and headed to worship.

As worship began, Pastor Terry introduced me to the room, explaining that I had never been to a prison before (I got claps and cheers, it was peculiar and kind of hilarious).

Remember camp songs that get played with a guitar and are so upbeat that people can't help but smile? These parts of the service were my favorite. While I was nostalgic for songs of my childhood, the women around me raised their hands, danced around and cried. It was amazingly genuine, freeing.

It got me thinking of how these women's lives are so focused, so raw, that their faith in God is one of the few things of their own they have. As a result, they are freed (not ironically) to be devoted and honest in their worship. It made me look at the things in my life I spend time on and allowed me to reevaluate what is important to me.

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- Intern Katie