In this article I will write as my full self; an ordained Christian minister. I serve as a Chaplain in a State institution which by the very nature of the term Chaplain means to serve people of all faiths (or no faith) even when the person or group’s beliefs are so contrary to my own personal beliefs. -Rev. Amy Luukkonen
This has been a challenging year. It has been a year of mentally moving (I actually changed jobs 5 years ago) from a person of the cloth, serving in a large Christian Church nursing facility where I was more Pastor then Chaplain to a women’s correctional facility where I am now more of a Religious Coordinator then Chaplain. (The title is Religious Coordinator/Chaplain.)
There is no flux, no softening of the boundaries; no pushing at the edges when working as a prison Chaplain
There is no flux, no softening of the boundaries; no pushing at the edges when working as a prison Chaplain that I might have previously had working within the Authority of my Office as a Pastor/Chaplain.
let go of the fight and let God work in and through each situation.
So how does a person whose job and whose personal beliefs demand life in the gray, work in a place that is so black and white? It is a question Prison Chaplains wrestle with daily.
In the midst of my latest wrestling match, I received some very wise counsel from one of my fellow prison chaplains, Reverend Marchelle Hallman.
It may be that in the suffering caused by our rules, she may gain much more
Now this may seem like one of those “duh” moments to some but to live this daily, hourly, minute by minute is a real challenge to one’s idea of living the Gospel.
Or so I thought.
My colleague also counseled me with: “It may be that in the suffering caused by our rules, she may gain much more.”
And I think she might be right.
The women’s Challenge Incarceration Program, CIP, is also here at this correctional facility. It’s commonly referred to as Boot Camp. It is a para-military structured program that teaches the women discipline – lots and lots of discipline! And there is where my friend’s words bear witness to the truth.
…it is the first time anyone has believed in them enough to expect of them their very best
Over and over again we hear from the CIP women that as hard as the program is it is often the first time they’ve had structure in their lives and, more importantly, it is the first time anyone has believed in them enough to expect of them their very best to the point of pushing and challenging them to find their best. Here they “suffer” that they might “gain more”. It is what we all want for the women here – all of the women whether in Boot Camp or general population – to find their best.
Which brings me back to what I do as Chaplain. But first, let me just say that like most institutions, be it nursing home, hospitals, or prisons, Chaplain staff are spending more and more time behind a computer. Rules and policies increase. Guidelines multiply.
this is when I breathe and feel contentment in my soul.
And this is when I breathe and feel contentment in my soul.
When I am Chaplain I am breathing Henri Nouwen’s beautiful words of hospitality. For Nouwen, hospitality was all about providing that sacred space where both people can be present without agenda. I am not here to hurt, change, shame, or deny you in any way.
I am here to provide a safe space where you may begin to know something different, something strangely curious, something new – God’s grace and mercy
What have I learned from working here? I believe now more than ever in that over used phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I’ve wondered where the villages have failed that we have women in prison who should be home with their families. When did it become okay and seemingly standard behavior to cross sexual boundaries with women and children? When did it become okay to verbally, emotionally and mentally abuse women?
Why do we avoid naming loud and clear in our churches the death that occurs in a victim’s soul when they are sexually abused especially as a child?
And I have also learned of the power of Love.
Yes. It is said that offenders find Jesus in prisons but leave him at the gate when they leave.
They can begin to figure out who they are and the pain and woundedness that brings them to this place.
They might “find religion”. This is a good thing. It can help them in the finding of themselves – who God created them to be. The challenge begins when they leave and have to start providing for this new self. Will they make it? Will they have healthy support? Will they be able to avoid the use of drugs and alcohol again? Will they continue to fall on Jesus as a way to do things differently? I don’t know. I can only hope and pray.
And in the end I am reminded that I need to rest in God. I am here, in this place, right now, to do what God can do through me. It is not mine to control or to determine but to be what I can be and then get out of the way. In this world what a more humble place to be but in the place where I must let go and let God work through me to create a simple but powerful sacred place; where women can bring what they really need to bring – raw, powerful, painful pieces of humanity that, with help, can be offered up and then released.
Reverend Amy Luukkonen is a Chaplain/Religious Coordinator at the Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility.
Photos are Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.