Worthy Now Connects Incarcerated UUs with Spiritual Community

Worthy Now Connects Incarcerated UUs with Spiritual Community

Church of the Larger Fellowship’s long-running prison ministry attracts a growing membership.

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There are more than 1,700 Unitarian Universalists who are incarcerated in the United States, and many of them rely on the Worthy Now prison ministry for a lifeline to the outside world.

Worthy Now is a ministry of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, a congregation without walls that connects UUs around the world. The Worthy Now prison ministry has experienced significant growth in recent years, adding more than 1,000 members in the last decade from all fifty U.S. states, and today more than half of CLF’s more than 2,800 members are incarcerated.

Through its pen-pal program, magazines, and correspondence religious education courses, incarcerated members connect with spiritual community.

"We focus on bringing church to them, on bringing them from the prisons to the pews with us," said Cir L’Bert Jr., Worthy Now’s manager. "Worthy Now is affirming that at this moment—regardless of their being criminalized—they are worthy, and they’re worthy of access to love, resources, and community."

For incarcerated UUs, Worthy Now has provided invaluable access to support they weren’t getting elsewhere.

Get Involved

Learn more about how you and your congregation can support prison
advocacy work and incarcerated UUs: worthynow.org.

 "I felt like people gathered around me and helped lift me up," one formerly incarcerated member, who asked that his name not be used, toldUU World. "It kept me alive, not literally, but figuratively and spiritually. It was a major value to me, a few people that communicated a love for me that I didn’t get much anyplace else."

That member was an active UU before being incarcerated, who, since finishing his decade-long sentence, has become active again in local UU churches.

As part of that, the commitment is to create real spiritual community, offering resources for incarcerated members to hold impromptu worship services.

Creating Spiritual Community Central to Worthy Now’s Mission

For the last several years, incarcerated members have been voting in CLF annual meetings, including electing CLF board members; more than 200 voted on mailed paper ballots in the June 2023 meeting. The CLF board is working for incarcerated members to have representation on the board. Given the logistics involved—incarcerated members wouldn’t be able to attend in-person or virtual board meetings—that representation will likely be from a formerly incarcerated member.

Free-world UUs (the ministry’s term for those not incarcerated) can get involved in several ways. One is to join the pen-pal program and begin writing to an incarcerated member. Another is to get a local UU congregation or organization to learn about and begin to support prison advocacy work. Worthy Now is also working to build a network of state allies—people who can help incarcerated members in their local area by connecting them to advocacy groups, to legal help, and to transition assistance when they are released.

How New Members Learn About Worthy Now

How do incarcerated people hear about the ministry? Mostly through other incarcerated members or through CLF materials in prison libraries or that have been shared by other prison ministries that Worthy Now has a relationship with, according to Tanner Linden, public relations and outreach manager for CLF. Often, one member will spread the word to others in the prison, resulting in clusters of new members at one facility.

"Worthy Now is affirming that at this moment—regardless of their being criminalized—they are worthy, and they’re worthy of access to love, resources, and community."

The effort is worth it, though. "It’s a pretty important connection to some kind of spirituality," said the formerly incarcerated member, explaining that in prison you can feel very alone, especially when it comes to the spiritual desire for growth. "UUA and CLF was there for me," he said.

L’Bert also said there is a global connection among prisons, corporations, and government-sponsored settlement programs, such as Motorola and other companies’ involvement in both U.S. prisons and the Israeli government’s occupation of the West Bank.

"U.S. prison abolition is a path toward liberation for all," he said.