“This ministry is a calling.” When participants in the new formation pilot program for American Association members involved in prison ministry were asked for feedback, that was one of the key takeaways. Also listed were listening, letting God speak through us, and understanding the role of those involved in this ministry.
The program, which took place online through the ZOOM platform in April, is designed to provide an overview on key elements for pastoral ministry. It is part of a new formation program for Order of Malta members involved in Prison Ministry. It was created in collaboration with representatives from three other Catholic groups involved in prison ministry, including:
- The National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC), David Lichter, Executive Director;
- Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition (CPMC), Karen Clifton and Joe Cotton;
- The Office of Chaplaincy Programs for the Archdiocese of Boston, Deacon Jim Greer, Director.
This initial session for the pilot program session led by Deacon Jim Greer, with Craig Gibson serving as moderator. “This will have a significant impact on strengthening our overall Prison Ministry program, throughout the American Association” Craig said.
Highlights of the session included:
- Pastoral Care as a ministry of the Church;
- Identity as a Pastoral Care Minister;
- Fundamentals of being a listening presence;
- What it means to accompany another person, especially those behind bars, or in transition back to society.
In addition to focusing on the aspects of pastoral care involved in the ministry, Deacon Jim talked about the practicalities of visiting prisons. This might be something as simple as not wearing jeans if that’s how the inmates are dressed in that facility. But it also includes more complex issues such as the prevalence of substance abuse, mental illness and low levels of education of those in prison. “So what does that mean for us as we’re ministering to our brothers and sisters that are incarcerated?” Deacon Jim asked. “We have to go out and meet them where they’re at.” From adjusting printed materials based on reading levels to finding ways of working with issues related to mental health, the aspects of serving in this ministry require considerable thought and advance preparation.
The ultimate objective of the formation program is to respond to that need, creating a process that is easy to use, and can be shared with other members of the American Association involved in prison ministry.