“Christ Meets Us Where We Are”:
The Prison Ministry Journal of Toby John, Part 1
“This was the first time I have ever gone to visit a prison.”
When Toby John, (MDiv St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Master of Social Work UT Arlington ) was hired this past year as the new Prison Relationship Manager of Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM), he also became the first person to pilot a new Certificate in Prison Ministry program, created in partnership with OCPM, St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and SCI Waymart, the Pennsylvania state prison facility only a few minutes away from the campus of St. Tikhon’s. This program has been developing over many years through the uniquely close relationship of these three entities; no U.S. prison is more open to Orthodox ministry than SCI Waymart, and no one is better equipped to train Orthodox clergy and laity in prison ministry than St. Tikhon’s and OCPM. Fr. John Kowalczyk (OCPM Director of Training and Spiritual Care, Chair of the Department of Pastoral Theology at St. Tikhon’s, and Prison Chaplain at SCI Waymart) makes this program possible.
For two months, Toby followed Fr. John Kowalczyk through the halls of SCI Waymart and journaled through his experience. He immersed himself in the sights and sounds–the pain and the hopes–of those behind bars, and we are now fortunate enough to share in Toby’s journal together.
There aren’t life-altering revelations here, but signs of Toby’s daily walk with Christ in prison: his subtle shifts in perceptions of the Gospel readings he shared at Vespers services, his open and consistent listening to his brothers’ worries of reconnecting with their families after their release.
For those discerning a call to in-person prison ministry, we hope Toby’s journal can help pave a reachable way forward for you. With the over 1 Million incarcerated in the United States, the fields are indeed white for harvest–but this doesn’t mean we need to be intimidated by the need. Christ will take our desire to help those in prison and show us what to do:
“[W]e have to meet the inmates where they are,” Toby writes. “This is what Christ does for us. He meets us where we are, and pulls us towards Him if we allow it.”