Katy Dickinson

"I understand that are about 25 EfM seminars in prisons in the United States but ours seems to be the first class in a jail."

Education for Ministry at Elmwood Jail

by Katy Dickinson, CIC Volunteer Chaplain

Last summer, Episcopal Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves and Deacon Robert Seifert (pictured, right) spent the afternoon at Elmwood Jail with the Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church jail ministry team, led by the Rev. Peggy Bryan. In addition to the St. Andrew's volunteers, one of CIC's Facility Chaplains went with us into two dorms. The first was a minimum-security area holding about 50 inmates where St. Andrew's offers Christian worship service every Sunday afternoon.

In thanks for her support - both financially in paying for half the cost of their EfM books and tuition, and spiritually with her prayers - the inmates signed a printout of our group-written "Collect for Week 14" as a gift for Bishop Mary. "Collect" is another word for prayer. We wrote this collect as part of our 1 June theological reflection exercise in class. The text is:

Collect for Week 14

Dear God, omnipotent in heaven, creator, Love, and perfect.

You watch over the oppressed, create people in perfection, never leave us alone, bring joy, and protect your creation.

We pray that you give us freedom, protection, wisdom, and guidance. Increase our faith, give us knowledge to know you better.

So that we are in heaven with you.

We praise your Holy Name. We keep our eyes on the prize: getting into heaven and gaining eternal life.

Amen.

With the generous support of the Rev. Peggy Bryan and CIC staff chaplains, I have been developing the experimental EfM program at Elmwood jail this year.

Worship in jail is one of the long-term outreach efforts of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Saratoga, California. Money for the college-level EfM textbooks, journals, and program tuition funds for 10 inmates were quickly raised through strong support from the Right Reverend Bishop Mary Grey Reeves and St. Andrew's Rector, the Rev. Channing Smith. The EfM program itself supports prison ministry by giving a significant discount in book and tuition costs.

We could not make this seminar work without the assistance of staff working in the Elmwood Correctional Complex. I am thankful to all who are enabling our class to develop. I have been an Accredited Mentor with EfM since 2011 and have been running a weekly seminar at St. Andrew's since then. Last year, I became the El Camino Real Diocesan Coordinator for EfM.

More about EfM:

Education for Ministry (EfM) is a unique four-year distance learning certificate program in theological education based upon small-group study and practice. Since its founding in 1975, this international program has assisted more than 80,000 participants in discovering and nurturing their call to Christian service. EfM helps the faithful encounter the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition and bring it into conversation with their experiences of the world as they study, worship, and engage in theological reflection together.

More information: http://efm.sewanee.edu/

I go into Elmwood each week with Patrick Ryan, a St. Andrew's parishioner who joined our class as a regular student. I understand that are about 25 EfM seminars in prisons in the United States but ours seems to be the first class in a jail. Inmates can be at Elmwood for years; many are still in the justice process, waiting for their cases to be heard or resolved. My class is exploring how to run an EfM seminar in a jail, if it can even be done. A primary difficulty of running a jail-based EfM class is that the seminar is nine months long and inmates often do not know how long they will be at Elmwood. We began with ten registered students in a men's protective-custody unit at the start of March 2016; a year later, four continue into their second year of study, and a new class of six men have begun their first year.