Tag Archives: Education for Ministry

Episcopal General Convention, Austin Texas, Day 1

Diocese of El Camino Real sign, Episcopal General Convention, House of Deputies, 4 July 2018

I arrived late last night in Austin, Texas, for the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  General Convention is the main governing and legislative body of the Episcopal Church and meets every three years.  I am with the Deputation of the Diocese of El Camino Real (Central California). Our Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves is in the House of Bishops (of which she is a Vice President) and we are in the House of Deputies.  This is the second time I have participated in General Convention – and I will again be blogging about the event.

I am not assigned to any committees, so I plan to attend as many Social Justice resolution hearings as I can.  For United States policy, I am particularly interested in the resolutions on mass incarceration and immigration. For Social Justice and International Policy, I want to sit in on the hearings about Israel and Palestine.  I am also showing interested groups the first half of the “Transforming Literature of the Bible” course materials I have edited and am already using at Elmwood Jail.  In addition, I looking forward to meeting with the Education for Ministry staff who are here in the Exhibit Hall with the University of the South – School of Theology.

According to the Episcopal News Service, the big topics for discussion at this General Convention are:

  1. Marriage Equality
  2. Revising the Book of Common Prayer
  3. The Episcopal Church and the #MeToo movement (for which we had a moving Bishops Listening service tonight)
  4. A salary for the president of the House of Deputies
  5. Following up on the church’s three priorities: evangelism, racial reconciliation and justice and care of creation
  6. Formulating the 2019-2021 triennial budget
  7. Middle East peace

In many ways, General Convention is like a family reunion every three years.  We get to talk with folks with whom we have a great deal in common but do not see very often.  Today, I already met briefly with the Rev. Canon Eric Law (Kaleidoscope Institute, Los Angeles), some of whose work I am using at Elmwood Jail. We had a rousing welcome (“not a sermon”) by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who received two standing ovations.  I will be here until 13th July.

Today is not only American Independence Day but also my 18th wedding anniversary with John Plocher – happy day, love!

These blog posts and other GC79 news are posted on the Diocese of El Camino Real website.

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves poster at Episcopal General Convention 4 July 2018

Katy Dickinson and Rev. Canon Eric Law Kaleidoscope 4 July 2018

Episcopal General Convention 4 July 2018

Transforming Literature of the Bible - Old Testament June 2018

4th of July Independence Day flowers at Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church Saratoga California 2018

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Images Copyright 2018 by Katy Dickinson.

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Prayers from Jail

Collect for Elmwood Jail M4C Dorm 10 Jan 2018

In Week 16 of our Education for Ministry (EfM) 36 week seminar, the students write a Collect together. A collect is a prayer meant to gather the intentions of the people and the focus of worship into a succinct prayer. In the Week 16 exercise, EfM prompts us with the first few words of each line and the students fill in the rest. By writing their own Collect, students learn the difference between kinds of prayer: Petition, Intercession, Penitence, Thanksgiving, and Adoration.

I lead three EfM seminars a week, two at at Elmwood Jail in Milpitas and the third at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (all in the Silicon Valley). My Co-Mentors Joel and Diane and Karen and I are all Accredited Mentors.  After each group wrote their own Collect, I read them the prayers written by the others.

Here are the three Collects:

Collect from Elmwood M4C Dorm EfM Class

God is holy, love, protection, comfort, security, and shares our burdens.

The world is corrupt, burnt, an abomination, and beautiful.

We ask for guidance, strength, compassion, and PopTarts.

We ask for healing, health, guidance, protection, and peace.

We confess our sins, faults, shortcomings, news, fears, prejudices, and hope.

We come together in awe and wonder at His majesty, the love of others, guidance.

So that we can have peace, good will, and understanding.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Collect from Elmwood M2B Dorm EfM Class

God is wonderful, loving, father, strong, life.

The world is a mess, suffering, needing peace, capable.

We ask for peace, mercy, love, hope, freedom, safety, protection.

We ask for food for the hungry, a house for the homeless, peace for those in war-torn countries, and health for the unhealthy.

We confess sin, misgivings, our love, ignorance – lack of knowledge.

We give thanks for life, families, safety, health, our EfM Mentors, friendships, and Honey Bun pastry.

We come together in awe and wonder at new learning, every day, God’s presence at Elmwood Jail.

So that we can have love, understanding, faithfulness.

In the name of Jesus.

Collect from St. Andrew’s EfM Class

God is love, healer, generous, compassionate.

The world is sick, poor, in need, progressive.

We ask for health, healing, open hearts and minds.

We ask for abundance for the poor, courage for leaders, wholeness for the sick.

We confess our prejudice, limitations, slowness.

We give thanks for those who came before us, healers, saints, new babies and parents, courageous leaders.

We come together in awe and wonder at a new year, God’s presence in our lives, grace.

So that we can be fearless, and the sick will be comforted.

In the name of our healing Father.

This jail-based EfM program is supported by the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy, the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino RealSt. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California), and the University of the South – School of Theology.

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What is Bad About Jail, What is Good About Jail

2017 Vanderbilt University Coursera Justice Mercy Mass Incarceration 1 Dec 2017

I recently finished a fascinating six week Vanderbilt University class called “Justice, Mercy and Mass Incarceration” presented through Coursera online.  The course goals were “to discover alternatives to the current systems of crime and punishment in order to imagine a more inclusive, just and moral society”.  It was taught by Graham Reside, Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University Divinity School.  This is my second online class in the area of justice and criminology, the first being “Crime, Justice and Society” by The University of Sheffield, presented online by FutureLearn.  I am both interested in the topic and in the MOOC (massive open online course) method in which these classes are presented.

Since 2015, I have developed and led a seminar at Elmwood Jail in Milpitas, California, in the Silicon Valley. Our seminar curriculum and books are from the Education for Ministry (EfM) program of the University of the South – School of Theology. EfM is a four year college-level certification program, started in 1975. So far as we know, ours is the only jail-based EfM program, although there are two dozen prison-based programs in the USA. In addition to covering the official EfM material, in the seminar we also work on listening, respectful group interactions, study skills, and basic leadership skills – like how to open and close a class with prayer.

This jail-based EfM program is supported by the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy, Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California), and the University of the South – School of Theology. I worked with a group of volunteers from St. Andrew’s to start our first weekly seminar in a medium security dorm, and we have recently added a second weekly seminar in a minimum security dorm. Two of the EfM students at Elmwood are in Year 3 (Church History), two are in Year 2 (New Testament), with the remaining students in Year 1 (Hebrew Bible). The EfM year is only nine months long but my Co-Mentors and I run the jail-based seminars back-to-back (since inmates do not get summer vacations).  About two thirds of the inmate students in our EfM seminar are men of color – mostly Latino – and the rest are white.  We conduct discussions in English (and Spanglish) but provide Bibles, Books of Common Prayer, and Dictionaries in both English and Spanish.

In leading this EfM seminar, I have observed many consequences of incarceration. One of my reasons for taking “Justice Mercy and Mass Incarceration” was to understand more of the context of what I am observing when I am teaching in jail. Last month, I told the seminar students about the “Justice, Mercy, and Mass Incarceration” class and asked them to tell me one good thing and one bad thing about being in jail. Here is what six of them said:

What is Bad About Jail

  • I don’t see my family.
  • Some innocent people are punished (but not many).
  • I am not there for my kids.
  • I can’t be there to help my wife when she needs me.
  • Not being there for loved ones: I am frozen, unable to do anything.
  • Being a number – losing who you are.
  • I never get the time back.
  • I have no say. I am less of a citizen.
  • I am treated as low in the hierarchy.
  • There is no mercy, no leniency.
  • I can’t be there for my babies, my wife. I am hurting.
  • I am missing my family.
  • I lose my job, my apartment, my wife and kids, my paycheck, everything.

What is Good About Jail

  • Takes evil off the street.
  • Families are safe from bad people.
  • I have a clear mind. I am closer to God.
  • I have more belief, more faith, more spirituality. I am more close to God.
  • I have free time to spend on prayer, sobriety, like the worst-ever vacation. We can be with ourselves without a phone or Facebook.
  • If I stay clean, I have a clear mind, can reflect and prepare for becoming a better person out there.
  • I can clear my mind, rethink decisions on things I have done (and things I did not get caught for).
  • I can stay off drugs, not putting poison into my system.
  • It has made me think, be a better person. Reflection, closer to God. I am learning a lot.
  • There is free medication (health care).

There are connections and discrepancies between what “Justice, Mercy, and Mass Incarceration” teaches and what the EfM student inmates say. They agree on the benefit of taking violent, evil, bad people off the street. They also agree that imprisonment has the potential for supporting personal reform – inmates rethinking who they have been and who they want to become. “Justice, Mercy, and Mass Incarceration” does not spend a great deal of time on effective reform but in the recommended 1998 documentary film “The Farm: Angola Prison”, several of the long-term inmates had clearly over time become very different people, positive forces in the prison community.  My hope for my EfM students is whether they are inside or outside, they can make a positive difference in the world.

2017 FutureLearn University of Sheffield Crime Justice and Society certificate July 2017

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Honored Woman 2017

St Andrews Honored Women 2017 Certificate Katy Dickinson

Four years ago, I wrote about Honored Women’s Day, at which the Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of El Camino Real join each year with the parish churches to honor a woman for her notable service. I am touched to be the 2017 Honored Woman for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California).  The text on the certificate prepared by ECW Chair Diane Lovelace based on the submission of our Rector, the Rev. Channing Smith reads:

    Katy is creative, knowledgeable, faithful, persistent, and swift to action. These are all qualities that are necessary for leadership, and Katy exudes them all. Katy is involved in many areas of the church. She has served in our vestry, chaired our Strategic Plan Personnel Committee, been an alternate to General Convention, and faithfully represented our community as a Diocesan convention delegate. However, her most recent ministry in EFM, Jail Ministry, and as the Diocesan EFM Coordinator is the reason for her nomination.
    Katy takes part in 3 EFM classes a week: one at Saint Andrew’s, and two at Elmwood Jail. She has been instumental to many parishioners continued faith formation as an EFM Mentor. She has leveraged her creativity to inspire and engage others, which has had a real world impact. Katy also leveraged her talents to set up an EFM jail program (1st one in the country) and took it a step further and got a second one approved. She needed to work with many agencies to make that happen, along with funding for the classes, co-mentors for each class, and negotiating with Sewanee to get a lower tuition rate so it would all be possible. This is a large ongoing time commitment (there are no class breaks in jail ministry). She is an inspiration and a rock for the guys there, and has even led some to join the Saint Andrew’s community. Katy also volunteered to take on the role of Diocesan EFM Coordinator. She arranged training locally, which was no small feat – normally the closest Mentors could go would be Auburn. This has expanded her outreach beyond El Camino Real, to all parts in California. Katy deserves to be recognized for the hard work and dedication that she has made to the Saint Andrew’s and broader community. She is a great example of faithful service to others and sharing the Good News of God’s love which she does so joyfully.

I am honored to be included in the ranks of the women leaders of our diocese. Special thanks to the Rev. Channing Smith for nominating me, and to the Rev. Peggy Bryan for asking my inmate students to write notes to present to me with the certificate.  You can read more about the University of the South – School of Theology Education for Ministry (EfM) program and our jail-based EfM seminars on the El Camino Real diocesan webpage.  If you are interested in supporting the incarcerated in Santa Clara County, please contact the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy.  Please contact me if you live on California’s Central Coast (Palo Alto to San Luis Obispo) and are interested in becoming an Accredited Mentor for EfM.

ECW 2017 Honored Women

Katy Dickinson Peggy Bryan 7 Oct 2017 presentation

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Images Copyright 2017 by John Plocher

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Technology for the Incarcerated

Christmas 2016 Elmwood Jail

I read Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh‘s recent article “How Technology Could Improve Mental Health in Prisons – But So Far Isn’t” (13 Dec 2016, in Fast Company) and considered other ways in which technology helps inmates.  I lead a weekly Education for Ministry seminar at Elmwood Correctional Facility (County Jail – in Milpitas, California). Here is how I see technology helping the ten men in my seminar:

  1. Because they do not have computer access, I make a standing offer to research topics that arise from our class discussions and bring the curious students more information.  Last night, I delivered printouts on Suetonius, Julius Caesar, prophecy in the Book of Daniel, the Caiaphas Ossuary, Galilee Boat, Ketef Hinnom, and Tel Dan Stele, plus a biography of Pontius Pilate. Wikipedia‘s easy access to vast fields of knowledge means in only an hour a week, I can bring the inmates a richer view into the world of the Hebrew BibleNew Testament, and Christian history.
  2. I was one of the St. Andrew’s prison ministry team who brought worship and song to Elmwood on Christmas Day. When leaving, I noticed a group of lovely deep purple irises blooming next to the back parking lot. Further on, I stopped to take a photo of two ducks on the water behind the jail. Just then, a big white egret erupted from under the bridge where I stood – as if an angel were arising from the water.  Because of easy and cheap digital photography and my color printer, I can show the inmates pictures of how nature was celebrating Christmas with them.
  3. One of my students was transferred from Elmwood jail into the state prison system.  He is highly intelligent and deeply faithful and wants to keep up his Christian studies.  Because prisons and jails will accept book deliveries directly from Amazon, I can use ecommerce to send him better books than are available in the prison library.  For Christmas, I sent him two EfM books: Transformed Lives: Making Sense of Atonement Today, and Care for Creation (a franciscan spirituality of the earth). We hope he will be transferred to a prison that offers an EfM Online course or one with an in-person class.
  4. The Elmwood class asked for song books in both English and Spanish so that they can sing hymns together.  I found Oramos Cantando – We Pray in Song. There are Spanish-only and English-only hymnals but this seems to be the only bilingual song book available. I even checked with our church’s Director of Music – who said he did not know of any.  I was able to locate eight paperback copies in good condition for less than $10/each on Amazon, delivered in a week from eight different used book sellers located all over the USA.

Oramos Cantando - We Pray in Song, 2005
Christmas 2016 Elmwood Jail

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Updated 3 January 2017
Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson


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Standing Up in Court

Santa Clara County California, Hall of Justice and Main Jail, San Jose 21 July 2016

For the first time, today I was a witness in a criminal justice hearing. As I wrote on 11 April 2016, I have been teaching in jail every week as part of Education for Ministry (EfM), an extension program of the University of the South – School of Theology, for which I am an Accredited Mentor and the El Camino Real Diocesan Coordinator.

One of the Elmwood Jail student-mentees in my EfM seminar had a Romero hearing today and I was in court as a character witness. “The People of the State of California v. Superior Court (Romero), 13 CAL. 4TH 497, 917 P.2D 628 (Cal. 1996), was a landmark case in the state of California that gave California Superior Court judges the ability to dismiss a criminal defendant’s ‘strike prior’ pursuant to the California Three-strikes law, thereby avoiding a 25-to-life minimum sentence” (quote from Wikipedia).  In today’s Romero hearing, the Defendant (my student-mentee) had the opportunity to reduce his sentence from an indeterminate number of years (that is, being sentenced to triple digit years without parole) to a sentence that may be completed during his lifetime.  I was the only witness present in court today but others had written letters to the judge asking for mercy in his case.  The hearing was brief but thorough.  The judge listened to me and the lawyers for the Defendant and Plaintiff (“the people”), then reviewed submitted documents.  What seemed to make a positive difference in this case was that the Defendant:

  • Has shown remorse and accepted responsibility for his actions
  • Has demonstrated a sustained change in his behavior, character, and prospects for the future
  • Did not use physical violence
  • Is middle aged already

I was glad that the judge ruled in favor of the Defendant today and gave him a sentence of 30 years without parole.  My student-mentee will be an old man when he gets out of prison but with luck and good behavior, he will get out someday.  This was the result he had hoped for.

When I serve each year as a Mentor in the TechWomen program of the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, my Mentees may go on to start businesses, accelerate their professional careers, attend graduate school, and change the world for the better.  When I am a Mentor each year for the EfM class hosted by Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church,  my student-mentees after four years of study graduate with more awareness of their personal ministry and with a solid education in the Bible, church history, theology, and ethics.

I am learning that as a Mentor for an EfM seminar in a county jail, my student-mentees gain the same education and potential for awareness of their personal ministry but have smaller potential to change the world for the better.  Even after they leave jail or prison, their socioeconomic status is so low that their prospects are modest as members of the community.  I am learning to celebrate the wins we can get, among them: passing the high school equivalency exam, reconciling with family, being accepted into a good reentry program, and getting a positive Romero judgement as we did today.

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Santa Clara County California, Hall of Justice, San Jose 26 May 2016

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson


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Bishop Mary Visits Jail

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, Deacon Robert Seifert at Elmwood Jail, Milpitas CA, 12 June 2016

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves and Deacon Robert Seifert spent the afternoon at Elmwood Jail yesterday with the Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church jail ministry team, lead by the Reverend Peggy Bryan. In addition to the St. Andrew’s volunteers, Elmwood Chaplain Jennifer Bales went with us yesterday to two dorms. The first was a minimum security area holding about fifty inmates where St. Andrew’s offers Christian worship service every Sunday afternoon. The second area was a medium security dorm where I teach a Education for Ministry (EfM) seminar every Wednesday night. EfM is a University of the South – School of Theology extension program.

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.


My goal in asking Bishop Mary to visit was that the inmates would know that whether they are released soon or spend the rest of their lives in prison, they are valued human beings and part of a faith community who are praying for them.  Many if not most of the Elmwood inmates are recovering (or not) from substance abuse, or are mentally ill.  “Of the 3,600 inmates at the Main Jail and Elmwood in Milpitas, 43 percent suffer from a mental illness” officials reported in September 2015.  Many of the 120 recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Commission for improved jail operations are with regard to Mental Health services. Even for the healthy, jail is a depressing place.  Knowing that they are important to someone is a step forward.

If you are interested in volunteering to visit jail in Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley), California, please contact the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy (CIC).

Elmwood Jail Education for Ministry Collect June 2016

Elmwood Jail Milpitas CA March 2016

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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