The Church of the Larger Fellowship’s Worthy Now Prison Ministry serves nearly 1,000 people in prison.
The Church of the Larger Fellowship’s Worthy Now Prison Ministry Network connects people inside and outside of prison in beloved community and supports Unitarian Universalist communities undertaking prison ministry and reform. Its aspiration echoes the UU First Principle: “We declare that all persons are worthy of love, respect, and support—not at some future time when we are better people—but as we are right now.”
The power of this ministry is conveyed by Raymond, a CLF member in prison who writes: “CLF has been one of the most joyous discoveries in my life . . . Reading and learning of others [who] think like myself, [who] are as loving, gives me hope as a reasonably prudent, kind, caring, and respectful individual.”
The prison ministry began in 1969, when an individual at San Quentin State Prison in California contacted CLF, which connects UUs around the world. Since then, CLF members—incarcerated and free—have exchanged letters through a pen pal program, and CLF has provided pastoral care, religious education, and publications like Quest and UU World to members in prison.
The Rev. Mandy Goheen, CLF’s director of prison ministry; the Rev. Rodney Lemery, CLF’s learning fellow; and other staff serve the nearly 1,000 CLF members in prison, educate UUs about prison reform, and help congregations become fully welcoming to formerly incarcerated individuals.
Lemery stresses that prison ministry is more than distant contacts. To understand that “a person’s behavior [is] different from their worth and dignity, which never changes,” requires spiritual discernment and a willingness to be changed.
Worthy Now is growing quickly, and Goheen says a network of satellite programs and partnerships is essential: “We can’t do it alone. We need partners around the country who can share this ministry with us.”
The simple act of addressing someone by name tells the recipient, “somebody cares enough about you to figure out where you live and will address your letter by your chosen name or your real name instead of a name that you’re being called in the prison, or a number,” says Goheen. “It’s an act that says, ‘I see you. You’re there. You’re not forgotten.’”
Learn more about CLF’s prison ministry and how you and your congregation can get involved at worthynow.org.
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Kris Willcox is a contributing editor for UU World. She is a writer and Unitarian Universalist with roots in the mountain west and a home in the Boston area. She spends her days writing for universities and other nonprofit organizations. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Vela, Cimarron Review, Literary Mama, and other publications.
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