Preparing, Guiding and Refreshing Prison Ministers
The Order of Malta American Association Prison Ministry Committee is in the process of creating a formation program for members who serve the incarcerated. In preparation, the committee has been meeting with experts to deepen members’ understanding of formation. “We are looking at how can we support, inform and broaden the perspective of all those who interact with the incarcerated and those involved in reentry programs,” said Craig Gibson, Chair of the Prison Ministry Committee.
The most recent meeting took place in October and featured Karen Clifford as presenter. Karen is an Executive Coordinator for Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition (CPMC). The organization promotes ministry to those affected by incarceration and serves as a central hub for Catholic Prison Ministry efforts in the United States.
Some of the topics Karen addressed in her presentation were:
The Need for Discernment—Know Yourself
Karen said it’s important for a minister to be real and to be present. “But to be able to do that, you have to be comfortable with who you are yourself.” She said ministers should examine their reasoning behind choosing to participate in this ministry, asking the questions: Why am I doing this? Why do I feel called to serve?
We Are There to Accompany—Know Your Role
“We are there to accompany people and to minister; we’re not there to be fixers,” Karen said. Noting that the incarcerated often have no one to talk to, she focused on the importance of listening, allowing the person to have a safe space to process and talk through concerns. “It’s being the face of Christ.”
Learn About the Challenges—Know the People You Serve
“We are ministering to a population that has experienced trauma,” Karen said. She added it is important for ministers to be informed about potential mental health issues faced by inmates and how those issues may affect interactions.
Be Grounded in Prayer—Know the Lord and Each Other
Karen talked about the importance of taking time to pray, to share, and to reflect with others in prison ministry, saying that if you are not grounded in prayer, personal ego and agenda can easily take over. “It’s so easy to step out and become a fixer, and it becomes your ministry, not Christ’s ministry.”
Develop Your Skills—Know How To Be of Help
Prisons require volunteers take part in an orientation program that covers basics such as what to do in an emergency. But Karen said that isn’t enough, that ministers need formation in pastoral ministry before they go into the prison, even if they have experience in pastoral care, spiritual direction, or therapy. “This is totally different,” she said.
Craig explained why the new formation program for Prison Ministry is so critical. “There is a need to constantly learn and share,” he said. The committee, working with professionals in the fields of prison ministry and formation, will be developing the program over the next two years. Track One, for those already involved in Prison Ministry, is expected to be available in early2022, and Track Two, for those new to Prison Ministry, will be available later in the year
For more information about Prison Ministry formation, please contact Craig Gibson, KM, Chair Prison Ministry Committee..