God Smiles

Sep 10, 2017

by Rev. Wayne Gallipo, board member

There is great beauty and power in the practice of outside congregations worshiping with a prison congregation.

As a prison pastor I have the privilege of witnessing the radical extravagance, the lavish outpouring of God's grace and mercy to the people God loves without condition. In our worship services at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, I observe men who may have no outside contact with anyone see concretely that they are not forgotten, that they are loved and appreciated as the visitors show them the image of Christ reflected in them. And our visitors see that image of Christ reflected back to them in the men at worship with them.

All come forward to Christ's table equally sinful and leave equally forgiven. Prison worship brings that truth into sharper focus and I believe changes both the visitors and the men who are serving time.

I have observed something else as well. My denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the fairly recent past went through a difficult time as we wrestled with the topic of human sexuality. Some congregations left the ELCA and joined other denominations. There were hard feelings. We don't have agreements between these denominations and on the outside of the prison walls we remain divided.

Something beautiful happens, however, inside the walls as we worship. While we are a congregation of the ELCA we have visitors from congregations that are Baptist, Methodist, LCMC, NALC and others. The disagreements and lines drawn in the sand are left at the prison entrance and we all enter the worship space as brothers and sisters in Christ.

We worship God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with one mind and voice. We confess our sins together and receive the same absolution. We hear the good news proclaimed as one body of Christ and we come to Christ's table from diverse backgrounds but united by one faith in Jesus the Christ who gave his life for all.

Last evening I had a pastor from an NALC church assist me as we served Holy Communion. We put our differences aside as we together gave all who came forward the true body and blood of Christ given and shed for them.

I believe this is a beautiful picture of what God intends the church to be, one holy and catholic (universal) church and it is happening inside prison walls. I believe God smiles when our focus turns from our secondary differences to God's ultimate truth which is God's love for all who confess that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior.

The PCA model shows us it does not matter if your clothes have "INMATE" stenciled on them or what denomination you belong to. We are God's beloved children.

Category: grace

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