Changing the Face of the Church

Sep 04, 2016

By Mary Mortenson, Director of Prison Congregations of America


My mantra lately has been that the PCA Model of Prison Ministry is changing the face of the church - and the world.  I usually don’t make such grandiose pronouncements, but I really believe this one. 


Not long ago, I was speaking with a man who was very interested to know to what church I personally belonged.  It was evident that my answer was unacceptable to him, and what followed was a pretty lengthy explanation of why his church was better. I had no desire to debate the issue, and I finally told the man that perhaps we can agree that we are blessed to love a God who allows us to worship in the style which is most meaningful to us, and further that we live in a country where we are free to do so.  It made me sad that this man and I had to reach across a space of what had become negative energy in order to find something with which we could agree.


A woman recently reacted to my telling her that we have prison congregations that represent nine denominations by saying, “Nine denominations - does that mean you have to speak different languages?”  I explained that denominations were simply different branches of the Christian family tree, and that my communication was almost always in English.  The truth of the matter is that through my work, in a sense, I do get to speak different languages: Baptist, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Reformed, Lutheran, and most recently, Presbyterian.  Within each of those bodies is a whole array of differing doctrines and theological understanding and expression – differences that can sometimes cause tension and discord. 


Every one of our prison congregations has denominational oversight and sponsorship.  Our model requires this so that we are assured that the pastor is trained and accountable to a larger body and so that there is a succession plan, to assure that the congregation can survive a pastoral change. Having said that, the prison congregation itself is ecumenical and diverse.  People who come to worship have different faith backgrounds and expression; they have different levels of education and socio-economic status; they differ in their first language and race.  I think a prison congregation looks like the Kingdom.  I see the members interact and sometimes struggle together, and in spite of – or perhaps because of – their differences, I see them worship and pray and love and support one another and the larger world, and that, my friends, is changing the face of the church and the world. 


The beautiful people involved with prison congregations have taught me that God is bigger than our puny attempts at explanation or worship.  It is God who loved us enough to take on flesh and walk with us. It is God who beat death at death’s own game.  It is God who loves us through all our differences.  It is God who is changing the face of the church and the world, and I am so blessed to have a tiny glimpse of that renewal through the work of PCA.

Category: mission

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