I have been developing an experimental Education for Ministry (EfM) program at Elmwood jail this year, with the support of the Rev. Peggy Byran and CIC Chaplain Jennifer Bales. Since 2015, I have been visiting the prisoners at Elmwood in Milpitas, California, as part of the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy (CIC). Worship in jail is one of the long-term outreach efforts of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Saratoga, CA. The college-level EfM textbooks and program tuition funds for ten inmates were raised through strong support from the Right Reverend Bishop Mary Grey Reeves and St. Andrew’s Rector, the Rev. Channing Smith. The University of the South – School of Theology EfM program itself supports prison ministry by giving a significant discount in book and tuition costs. We could not make this program 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.
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.
Our primary mission is to respond to the individual spiritual needs of incarcerated youth and adults in Santa Clara County and present the good news of God’s love and forgiveness. As people respond to the messages of faith, they can experience lives of purpose and hope. Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy is a non-profit corporation, founded in 1962. CIC operates in cooperation with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, Department of Correction, Probation Department, and other government agencies as needed.
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 USA but ours seems to be the first class in a jail. Inmates are at Elmwood for up to five 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 in for. We began with ten registered men students at the start of March 2016. Some have dropped out and others have joined, leaving us with eight students as of last week.
Since we are starting Week 7 (reading Exodus 1-15 in the Bible, plus Chapter 5 of Collins’ Introduction to the Hebrew Bible), I am not adding any more students – it will be too hard for them to catch up on the reading. The students are energetic in raising questions and enthusiastic in our discussions. I do not think any of them have been to college but they are all devoted readers of the Bible and have been doing their extensive homework reading each week. In addition to the assigned material, we are also working on study skills and learning to back opinions with material from the texts. Two Elmwood inmates who were released in the first few weeks of class have come to services at St. Andrew’s and expressed interest in joining the parish-based EfM class when the next term starts in September. Their faith and dedication to learning is inspiring.
Last week, I attended my annual CIC jail ministry training for volunteers. With song and prayer and a interesting presentation by Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, about a hundred of us from dozens of faith communities renewed our connections and updated our understanding. Last year’s speaker was the remarkable and inspiring Judge Stephen Manley, who has served on the bench in Santa Clara County for over 25 years and was a founder of the Drug Treatment Court as well as the Santa Clara County Mental Health Treatment Court. CIC and EfM both run inspiring and life-changing programs. I hope we can create a long-term program that brings them together at Elmwood jail.
Images Copyright 2015-2016 by Katy Dickinson