As we begin the Advent season, preparing for the coming of our Lord Jesus, we also mark a new year in the church. We also are drawing nearer to the new calendar year, as well, so I want to look back a bit on the past year.
January was busy with the meeting of the Montana Department of Corrections Faith Based Transitional Housing Re-Entry Task Force, of which I am the chair of the Resource Committee, and Volunteer Training at the prison.
February was time for our big Quilt Dinner, Contest and Silent Auction. What an adventure! We had technical issues and glitches, but still managed to pull off the biggest, online auction event in the history of the synod. And this year’s event promises to be bigger and better, with fewer glitches, and smoother contacts.
Then I traveled to Los Angeles, where, along with Pastor Chris and Pastor Dave Peters, I attended a Mission Developers Conference. Lots of excitement and Spirit filled projecting for the future. I returned home just in time for the first baptism of the year.
March was a month of trials as I had surgery on my shoulder to repair a torn and separated shoulder. Then while travelling to Iowa, to take custody of two of our grandchildren, we had an auto accident and I ended up in the emergency room with Kidney stones, then had to have surgery to remove one over 5 millimeters in diameter. I did not return to the prison for almost three weeks!
April was marked by increased attendance and visitation, and also a bereavement visit, a funeral and a baptism. I also experienced my first “DRILL”, complete with the realization that the siren that loudly announces an emergency event at the prison is directly outside my office window! YIKES!
May was another busy month. I presented at a Veterans’ gathering in Anaconda and a Mens’ Group at St. Johns’ in Helena. There were two baptisms, one of which was attended by a visiting group from Great Falls. And it ended with the Montana Synod Assembly in Great Falls.
Following the assembly, I made several trips to Missoula to present and take part in Transitional Task Force meetings and to present to the Missoula Interfaith Coalition, in June. But the highpoint of the month was traveling to Missoula, yet again, to meet with Bishop Bill Bowles and Mr. Joe Jongolo from the Cape Orange Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, to talk about prison ministry.
July was filled with presentations somewhere in the Synod every weekend, as was the first two weekends in August. Mid-August marked the sign up for our Kogudus Spiritual Retreat in November. Then two weeks of vacation during which we went to Iowa for even more kids, and managed to “almost” get our whole house painted!
September brought Synod Council meetings, which I was not only able to attend for the first time, due to conflicting Mission Developer Conference dates, but at which I was privileged to serve as Chaplain. I also presented to the Montana Synodical Women’s Conference in Billings and served as a participant in the Kogudus event at Montana Women’s Prison, AT THE SAME TIME! It was a great weekend, culminated by preaching and presenting at All Saints in Big Sky and attending an AA meeting where I found all sorts of interest in involvement in our ministry!
On the last day of the month, Bea and I went to Helena to display our table at the Montana State Employees Giving Exposition. We made lots of contacts and shared a good deal of information and materials, but the highlight of the day was when Lieutenant Governor, John Walsh made his way to our table, and told us he had sought us out to thank us for what we and our ministry does for the inmates at Montana State Prison, and for the people of the State of Montana! I tried not to let my head get too big.
October was a flurry of activity with presentation every weekend, and on the first to a huge group of folks in Missoula attending a gathering of the Missoula Interfaith Coalition. I also attended and presented at the Bishop’s Convocation and Growing in God’s Field event in Helena.
Mid-way through the month, I met for lunch and visited and talked about prison ministry with Pastor Presidente Emilio Aslla Flores of the Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Boliviana (IELB), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bolivia. October also marked my participation as a delegate and a presenter to the Assembly of the Montana Association of Churches. The result was strengthened and renewed ecumenical relationships and excitement over our ministry.
And speaking of ecumenical relationships, in October we also kicked off the Freedom in Christ Prayer Network, receiving and sharing prayer requests from congregations and individuals throughout the state with others; and our 2013 Prayer Vigil on the 26th and 27th. Both these things have encouraged interdenominational growth in interest and support.
November continued to be busy and was also marked with some exciting things. There was lots of travel, including a trip to Thompson Falls, where I preached and presented at the Gospel Mountain Assembly of God. It also marked the first Kogudus Retreat in over three years at Montana State Prison. I served as Retreat Pastor and it was a marvelously Spirit filled weekend. Attendance at worship and Bible study increased as a direct result.
November also marked the implementation of a new schedule at MSP. We are no longer doing a Bible study on Monday evening. Instead, we now do a Low Side (Low security inmates) Bible study on Tuesday from 1:00 – 2:00 in the afternoon. Then we do a High Side (Medium and High security inmates) on Wednesday afternoon from 2:20 – 3:20.
This allows inmates from both security levels to attend a function of Freedom in Christ each week. Wednesday evening worship, with Holy Communion still alternates week to week between High Side and Low Side.
But the really exciting thing is that now we do pastoral visits at the WRC (Work Release Center or Work Dorm) on Thursday afternoons and at 5:15 we do a bible study there. It has been well attended, and the men are excited to have more involvement in Freedom in Christ. I also attended a meeting of the Butte Ministerial Association on November 20th and have another volunteer and interest in the ministry, as well as connections to ministry participants there who are vitally interested in being a part of what we do.
December will continue to be busy, with presentations, and Advent worship, which is, conveniently on Wednesday evening. I will have participation by folks from Missoula, Anaconda and Butte at studies and worship, which will include confirmation services and a baptism, two worship services on Sunday, December 22nd, and worship on Christmas Night.
In other words, “what a year!” I recall somebody, Associate Warden Tom Wilson, I think, cautioning me to hang on, that it was going to be a ride.
I want to conclude with a personal prayer…
I thank you for all that you have blessed me with; volunteers and supporters without whom we could not do what we do; the excitement and encouragement of my Council, Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Prison Congregations of America show, constantly; and for the men of Freedom in Christ who daily inspire me to share with them your boundless mercy, grace and love, by showing it to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.