|Chaplains help inmates find Jesus in prison|
Rev. Heidi Kugler ministers to more than 600 inmates at the Federal
Detention Center in Honolulu. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Jan. 5, 2008 | HONOLULU (UMNS)
The prison chaplain walked through the heavy metal doors, keys jingling on a large ring at her side.
Entering the room, she called out, "Prayer service. All are welcome to come to the chapel for prayers."
About 25 women dressed in identical medical scrubs lined up and quietly filed into the small corner room.
They were surprised to find a United Methodist bishop visiting and happy to hear he would say a prayer for them.
Attendees at the 2008 Criminal Justice Summit participate in a simulation to experience first-hand the challenges
newly released inmates face
when re-entering society.
A UMNS photo by Hendrik R. Pieterse.
The requests came slowly. One inmate said she had received a letter
from her daughter. “She has cancer,” she said. “She’s only 17.”
Another woman cried as she talked about her mother who was ill. The
inmate feared she would not be released in time to see her again.
Others asked for guidance and care for their loved ones.
Tears slid down the inmates’ faces as Bishop Robert Hoshibata asked
God to comfort those gathered in the chapel. As leader of the
Oregon-Idaho Annual (regional) Conference, he was visiting chaplains
endorsed by The United Methodist Church and appointed to the Pacific
The pain, sorrows and burdens of more than 600 men and women housed
at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu often fall on the shoulders
of the Rev. Heidi Kugler, an ordained United Methodist pastor. She has
served as a prison chaplain for 12 years.
“I had this very kind of selfish notion when I first started that I
was going to bring Christ to the inmates,” she said. “In essence, they
have really taught me about God’s love that knows no bounds, about
God’s redemption that knows no barrier, about the deepening of God’s
grace and forgiveness for all of us and a hope that knows no end.”
Kugler is one of 32 United Methodist endorsed prison chaplains, and one of six appointed to a federal detention center.
Jesus in prison
The Rev. Pat Barrett, top executive of the agency that certifies
pastors to become chaplains, agrees with Kugler. She said The United
Methodist Church’s founder, John Wesley, didn’t believe he was taking
Jesus to prison. “He found Jesus in prison.”
Most prison ministry has been focused on visiting incarcerated
persons and telling them to accept their conditions and behave, said
the Rev. James M. Shopshire Sr., professor of the Sociology of Religion
at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.
“Much less attention has been given to pastoral caring and
counseling for recovery or restoration of persons for reentry to the
larger community and for the larger community to receive former
offenders back,” he said.
Shopshire is one of the authors of “I Was In Prison: United
Methodist Perspectives on Prison Ministry,” a new book published by the
denomination’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The book was
celebrated and discussed during the 2008 Criminal Justice Summit in
Washington, Nov. 20-22.
All God’s children
Every year hundreds of thousands of inmates are released into
society with little or no support, Kugler said. Most have strained
family relations, their prison record keeps them from getting a good
job, and they cannot find affordable housing. Many are suffering from
addictions to alcohol or drugs.
“I envision The United Methodist Church embracing needs of inmates as a
means to uphold our mission of creating disciples,” she said.
Rev. Bruce Fenner hands the Rev. Patricia Barrett an autographed copy
of “I Was In Prison: United Methodist Perspectives on Prison Ministry.”
A UMNS photo by
Hendrik R. Pieterse.
Often inmates find or reconnect with their faith in prison and
need their faith communities to receive them upon release. “When I have
asked inmates over the years what they want the church on the outside
to know about them, they often say things like they need the church to
enact our motto of ‘Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.’ to include
them as well.”
The gospel message to seek out the forgotten and forsaken needs to
include the nation’s 2.7 million inmates, their families, correctional
staff and victims of crime, Kugler said.
“I envision The United Methodist Church reclaiming and living out
our Wesley roots of social holiness that moves beyond the church
building to meet the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of all
Information on “I Was In Prison” is available from Cokesbury at www.cokesbury.com or by calling toll-free (800) 672-1789.
*Gilbert is a United Methodist Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video: The Rev. Heidi Kugler
“They want to know God has not forgotten them.”
“They have really taught me about God’s love that knows no bounds.”
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United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Federal Detention Center, Honolulu