What Is a Nice Girl Like You Doing In a Place Like That?

What Is a Nice Girl Like You Doing In a Place Like That?

I was in prison and you visited me.
Matthew 25:36

Being involved in “Correctional Ministry” over the past 10 or so years, I have heard some variation of that question many times. Variations include: “Why would you want to do something like that?” and “Why would you put yourself in that kind of danger?” or–the most distressing to me–“What does that have to do with the Church?”

In my adult life I have always tried to be involved in some kind of service ministry, varying from overseas medical mission work to working for “Healthcare for the Homeless” when I relocated to Washington in my younger days. I have always been interested in behavior change from the inside out, and have felt a call to the ministry of reconciliation. When my knees and hips could no longer leap tall buildings and run faster than a locomotive, I began to consider the one to one ministry of reconciliation in earnest, and found a fertile mission field among the incarcerated.

The people we find in prison are mostly the victims of a variety of ills in our society: poverty, poor education, lack of good parenting (or none at all), lack of good opportunities for meaningful work, systemic white privilege, a justice system that lacks justice and more often than not is punitive rather than rehabilitative.

The women I minister with are really not that different from me. We all have needs that are the same–for love, for safety, for purpose and meaning, for opportunities for self-efficacy and self expression. Most of the ones I meet in prison have made poor decisions–often ones they saw as the best of multiple less-than-optimal choices. Yet the resurrection of Jesus means that no mistake anyone has made defines them, and no sin is the final end of the story. I am called to witness to that reality in my words, actions, and by choosing to “show up” for those who society has put out of its sight and mind. They too are loved by God and in need of His redeeming love.

Jesus quoted from Isaiah in pronouncing his own manifesto: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). He invites us to share in this in whatever place we might find ourselves, to proclaim “a year of favor from the Lord”, to proclaim that a person’s identity is not what they have done, but who they are in the eyes of God, His beloved.

Prison is a fertile place to plant the seeds of a new identity that Christ offers, and a place that the message is truly saving and life changing. Much of what I do with the women I minister to is to help them choose to accept that new identity for themselves and in changing that identity, change their lives and make healthy, good decisions about their lives going forward. It is participating in the ministry of reconciliation that God calls each of us to.

I would love to discuss possibilities for participation with anyone who might feel the Holy Spirit’s urging them to be involved as well in ministry to and advocacy for the incarcerated.

The Rev. Adrienne J. Clamp, MD
Deacon, Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda

Belovedness Part II: Our Brothers and Sisters in Jail

Belovedness Part II: Our Brothers and Sisters in Jail

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I tore the tag off a piece of furniture… you know, the one that says, “Do Not Remove This Tag Under the Penalty of Law.” After I did that, I was told what it said, my father and older brother began to tease me about how I broke the law and was going to jail. I was frightened beyond belief and I remember my big fear was that I was losing my family.

Moving forward many, many years in my life to a couple of years ago, I received a call from the switchboard at the local hospital. The operator asked me if I was able to come to the hospital. There was a patient in the ICU that really needed to talk to a chaplain. I told her I would be right over, I live less than a mile from the local hospital.

I arrived in the ICU, and was directed to the appropriate room. To make a long story short, after some conversation with the patient, he told me that he had committed a heinous crime that had resulted in the death of a close family member, and then he attempted to kill himself. He knew he was going to jail as soon as his self-inflicted wounds healed enough that he could be transferred to the jail.

But in all of this emotion and fear, there was underneath it all, a beloved child of God that was reaching out for help and a path to some form of remorse and reconciliation, whatever that was destined to look like.
It is easy to think about our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated and say that they are where they are because of their own choices. It is easy to use terms like penalties and consequences. In other words, it is easy for us to not think about these people and their needs… their spiritual needs. It is easy to forget that they, too, are beloved of God. But they are. We are called and we promise to care for them each time we repeat our baptismal vows.

In this installment of our continuing series of the ministry of deacons in the diocese, The Rev. Adrienne Clamp talks about the ministry she is doing with incarcerated women in Montgomery County. She is not the only deacon involved in this type of ministry. In fact, prior to Covid, many deacons and parishes were engaged in this ministry, and many are moving back into the facilities now and caring for these beloved brothers and sisters that God has given us to care for. Caring for their spiritual needs as they pay their debt and working to help them with successful reentry into society. Deacon Adirenne’s is one story of the many in our diocese who have answered God’s call to care for these beloveds.

As a 6 year old boy, I did not go to jail. But I have never forgotten how afraid I was. I have grown to realize that there was much more to lose than what my young mind could comprehend then. And it makes me realize that even though mistakes and missteps happen, regardless of intention, God still loves. And God still holds us as beloved.

If you feel called to find out more about ministry to the incarcerated, please feel free to contact me, and I will put you in touch with one of our deacons or parishes engaged in this ministry. You can reach me by email.

With you on the journey,

The Venerable Steve Seely

Belovedness: Three Things You Should Know… No Wait, Four.

Belovedness: Three Things You Should Know… No Wait, Four.

Over the course of this year, we will be talking about the many ways that the deacons in the diocese are working with their parishes on behalf of the beloved we meet. Archdeacon Steve launches the series with an explanation of belovedness. 

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians (3:12), Pauls says this, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

There are three things you should know about belovedness…no wait, four.

Thing number 1 – Who are God’s chosen ones? The answer to this is… we are God’s chosen ones. All of us. It is not limited to the folks Paul addressed in his letter. It is not limited to any defined person or group. We are all God’s chosen ones and God’s beloved.

Thing number 2 – The definition of beloved: a much loved person.

Thing number 3 –  Belovedness: the state or condition of being beloved.

While it is not unique to ordained deacons, belovedness is the primary lens in which deacons look at the world. All are beloved, especially those in any kind of need. That need may be material. It could be a need for someone who is willing to listen and hear a person’s story. Or in a situation where the “beloved” needs an ally; a friend to help or a voice that will be heard on behalf of those with little or no voice. In their ordination vows, deacons promise to “look for Christ in all others, being ready to help and serve those in need.”

But you might say, “Wait a minute, that sounds familiar!” And you are right. You see, in our Baptismal Covenant after being asked, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.”

We reply, “ I will, with God’s help.”

The vows are very similar to each other, aren’t they? And since they are, here is…

Thing number 4 – Those who are beloved–the ones Paul talks about–is everyone. And this state of belovedness is the lens through which deacons look at the world. But that same lens is really shared by us all. It is right there in the promises we make every time there is a renewal of our Baptismal Covenant.

Sometimes, like in this article, belovedness means taking care of our planet so that it is here for generations to come. Sometimes, it will show up as the collective engagement of deacons and their parishes working in singular focus for greater impact. Always, it will be in the context of taking steps in love and care of the beloved children of God.

You are invited along! Where is your passion? Where is the place where what you care about meets the world’s needs? Bishop Mariann invited us at Diocesan Convention in January to “take the next faithful step.” If you do not know where to begin, ask a deacon to help you find a place to start and take that next faithful step  with you. And if your parish does not have a deacon, email me and I will work with you.

With you on the journey,
The Venerable Steve Seely, Archdeacon

Saplings for Sacraments

Saplings for Sacraments

Sometimes God turns you into a happy robot. At least that’s what I thought when “Saplings for Sacraments” beamed into my brain last fall. By that time, I had served as the deacon at St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda, for almost two years and on the diocesan Creation Care Task Force for ten months. For as long as I could remember, I had loved trees; I was famous for sharing a third of my small place with an enormous fig. God had called me, I was certain, to care for the Earth, given all its beauty and vulnerability. But when and how?

Then, everything came together–as it does when the Creator is up to something. There I was in a church surrounded by trees, next to the Capital Crescent Trail and within the Little Falls Watershed. My rector, the Rev. Patty Alexander, was as moved as I was by the sorry state of the planet. Finally, one day in October, Abbott McCartney of St. John’s, Lafayette Square, invited other members of the task force to attend an international webinar on the brand-new Anglican Communion Forest. I had free time that afternoon, so I attended.

We had four baptisms scheduled for November and December. With help from the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, I got four native-tree saplings for free to give to the newly baptized or their sponsors and printed up tree-care instructions based on my time as a volunteer with Casey Trees. The cedar, magnolia, and maples didn’t look like much; three of them were leafless sticks. But the expression on the teen’s face was priceless when I introduced her to her new green-ish friend. Saplings for Sacraments—one way to grow the worldwide Forest—was born. More trees for other sacraments will follow, God willing.

There are lots of reasons to plant trees and ways to participate in the Communion Forest. See the links above, the “On Planting Trees to Celebrate Special Occasions” resolution of the 2023 Diocesan Convention, and this great list of resources on the diocesan website.

The Rev. Mary Sebold
Deacon, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, Bethesda

Sanctuary Ministry: Giving thanks for our Multicultural Bilingual Deacons

Deacons are the bridge between the Church and the Community. Archdeacon Sue von Rautenkranz will speak about this newly ordained cohort. We will also hear from recently ordained and seasoned deacons as well as from Fr Vidal, Senior priest of a sponsoring and receiving parish. Join us as we learn how we can walk alongside the Deacons of our Diocese to welcome the stranger and build the beloved community.