What if the answer is … prison?

Ministry: n.Late 14c., “function of a priest,” from Old French menistere “service, ministry; position, post, employment,” and directly from Latin ministerium “office, service, attendance, ministry,” from minister). Began to be used 1916 as name of certain departments in British government. see also: servant minister.

My parish is in the midst of a sort of jobs fair for the social outreach ministries in the church, and let me tell you there are many to choose from. In large and active congregations the group usually has more ministries and activities going on than you can possibly hit, all in one week. And if you are not in a congregation, you are surrounded by tons of local and global causes that would love your attention and action.

How do you choose?

This is where we step into those strange religious words like “calling,” that maybe non-religious people don’t use in quite the same way. Religious people are called by some greater vision to go into a particular field and plant the proverbial wheat.

People who do not practice a particular religious faith do this as a matter of some cause that they are magnetically attracted to. The cause speaks to them, or they have participated (like cancer patients who later do work for cancer support organizations.) Maybe it’s a topic that fascinates them. Or it’s a cause that is fun to work in support of because their friends are there, and it’s a group effort. Not to mention the new friends gained when anyone becomes involved in a ministry.

What if you’re not feeling called to do a certain kind of help? I have no answer for that one because the answer comes from inside you. Maybe it’s a cause that you can help with because you are there in the place where you are, in the time that you have, with the tools you carry. Even things like helping mow a neighbor’s lawn while they’re sick, or bringing over food and flowers to somebody down the street or in your building. That’s a calling, too, whether you hear it at the time or not.

None of the above includes simply writing a check to feel as if you have done your part.

Yes, there are many organizations which most need our money to be of immediate help. I’m thinking of Red Cross disaster relief when folks start sending thousands of toys for displaced children. That means the Red Cross has to pay more money to deal with those material donations. Cash – in the time of immediate disaster – is what those organizations most need to get the proverbial boots on the ground, lights, potable water, food, to the people who need it most.

A displaced family cannot – in good conscience – eat a Teddy bear.

One group in the parish that I have a passing contact with is our ministry to folks who are in prison, focusing on a couple of state correctional facilities within driving distance. I have been so busy over the years with my own list of helpful chores that I appreciated the prison ministry being there, and had to say “not my calling,” and keep working. (Of course it’s easier to say that when there’s a well-formed group of volunteers to keep a particular activity from floundering.)

One of the works I add my help to is the prayer chain. It’s a very simple thing to do and works especially well for those of us who are house bound and can’t get out and do physical, laborious work. The minister who leads the group sends out an email each month of the main points of remembrance (on Monday we pray for our ministers, on Tuesday for the Campus ministry, etc.) Those never change.

We get ongoing personal requests in that email and also individually throughout the month as new ones come in. The only information we have on personal prayer requests is a name and a situation. “Please pray for Mary who lost her mother this week,” etc. The people involved to not need to be members (we call them communicants) of our parish.

One doesn’t need to belong to any particular club to pray, or to be prayed for.

Earlier this year, we started getting weekly emails from a parishioner who works with our prison ministries, and she sends a list each week in the same format: an inmate’s first name, and a situation. That is all we need for prayer to happen.

I took these into account and did the same prayers I always have. Lately, the situations started speaking to me of the great job of humanity we have, even when facing inhuman situations. I’m speaking of the moral fight inside of “praying for” a thief or a murderer, or a drug dealer. It’s so easy for me to see the crime, and have a preconceived image of the criminal, and somehow forget that – in some of these cases – there is a person behind that facade of badness who is asking for our help, no matter how simple. Just a prayer.

I’m sharing the ones from this week’s list, but just the situations. I’ll give them all a fictitious name. Remember as you read these, all of the people on this list are for-real in prison. They cannot simply walk free and take any sort of action. Someone must walk for them:

  • Jesus – whose mother died.
  • Jesus – who hasn’t heard for some time how his children are doing.
  • Jesus – still in administrative segregation pending his disciplinary hearing.
  • Jesus – who will be released and reunited with his family on Monday.  His resolves are to get a job, take care of his family, and get into church. Please pray for him as he continues on his journey.
  • Jesus – who is facing the possibility that he will never be released.

 *Thank you so much for your prayers.*

Did you see what I did there? With the names?

The ones who grabbed my attention most and brought me deeper into these weekly lists are the “may never get out again” or “has found a relationship with God and needs help with that” or “wants to make amends.”

It’s not my place to judge these folks in any way, or decide if they’re telling the truth, or to think anything about their ongoing or future punishments.

My job is simply to pray.

Sure, that’s the easy way out of social responsibility, yet I can be active and responsible in the other works I do. This calling to prayer is more simple, and more heart-and-soul focused.

My job is simply to pray.

Who knew that by doing one activity, I would become at least spiritually connected to another that was on the list of not my ministry? I still won’t be the first in line to sign up for prison ministry (it’s still not my calling, and I have tools and skills used elsewhere for other just as worthy causes.) I love and appreciate all who do this difficult and sometimes dangerous job. For them, and all other ministries, activities, outreaches, and missions of the universal  church,

from my simplicity, I simply pray.
Some days, prayer is enough.

Keep the faith!
 – Amen




This entry is dedicated to my great friend Rev. Martha who was so very involved in the prison ministries at our parish. We were great friends, and talked many hours about the things we are put here to do, and how to do it.

Fly big, and rest easy, dear friend.




*The feature image for this article is an icon called “Jesus of the Maryknoll” by br. Robert Lenz.






God’s Clothesline – a caregiver’s prayer

Yesterday was a pretty rough day for me. As I was dressing to head out for a meeting with my personal confessor, I got a text from a dear friend that started out

No candy coating…

…and went on to explain some tough news that was not candy coated, that was gloves-off, here’s the facts as we know right now.

Some days and with some friends and caregivers we need that: don’t hemm and haww around the thing, just say it: get it out in the air so that we can start working on whatever it is we need to do to move to the next step in our adventure of life.

My friend is a medical person and I know all the $5 Doctor words from my own experience, so we were able to spend a half hour or so in Grown Up Mode (urgh!) doing a brain dump of facts and ideas.

And me asking questions.

I prefaced my hard medical questions by saying, I’m just throwing out some factual stuff here, I’m not trying some sort of Make A Deal With God plea. I also apologized for being so religious in my first reaction. It’s my job. And I know it so well even through the adventures of Chemo Brain that it’s my go-to.

Being a grown up takes a lot of energy, so I’m glad that my friend and I don’t have to do that for very long, and we can segue from there to a lighter, less dictionary-like conversation. From there, I begged off and rushed over to Chapel Hill to the church and my previously-scheduled meeting. We spent two lovely and inspiring hours together just talking – a lot of catching up, and a lot of talk about meditation, prayer, and grace. And it was a conversation that I needed to have in the middle of that day.

While I was (barely) driving home in the pm rush around the two cities, a single line of a prayer started noddling around in my head. I kept repeating the thought so I’d not forget it by the time I got home, and there, I parked the car, pulled up a notepad, and finished composing the prayer.

It was such a beautiful sunny day, and we have a family of bunnies in our yard this year (who knew! in the middle of our urban sort of city we are a haven for cottontail rabbits!) So the end of the prayer came out much more pleasant than the beginning.

It reads a bit like some of the low-key psalms, about what it feels like to be a care giver at the end of a long day. It asks The Maker to “make us right again” for the next day, in the way that only the creator of our universe can. This prayer is for those days you are just tired, spiritually exhausted, and feel totally wrung out, yet you know that tomorrow, you’ll get up and do it all again.

Keep the faith!



—– God’s Clothesline – A Prayer —–


Today I’m just a wrung-out rag.
Dunked in the dirty water, squeezed out
and left in a lump
to get dry and hard,
molded in the shape in which I was dropped.


You control
the clouds and the air,
the seas and the land,
the darkness and the light.

Pick me up from my dirty, soggy lump,
lay me out flat across your great clothesline,
send the sunshine and the breeze
so that I’m cleaned white as snow
in your gentle, sunny day.

Clean me and make me fresh so that I may be used again,
always for Your Name’s sake.

 – Amen



Veteran’s Day – a prayer

A prayer for those in the armed forces:


Almighty God,

we commend to your gracious care and keeping
all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad.

Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace;
strengthen them in their trials and temptations;
give them courage to face the perils which beset them;
and grant them a sense of your abiding presence,

wherever they may be;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 – Amen