Kairos Prison Ministry
At a time when church attendance is shrinking and smaller congregations are shuttering their doors, new faith communities are rapidly gaining a foothold in an unlikely place: state and federal correctional facilities. What is more unlikely, perhaps, is that while civil liberties organizations are piling stones atop the wall that separates church and state, those same federal and state facilities are eagerly handing out Bibles and other sacred texts.
Kairos Prison Ministry International is a case in point. In the past two years, Kairos has added 55 institutions to the list of prisons served, bringing the total to almost 400 facilities where the ministry is staging three-day, Cursillo-like weekends and establishing prayer and share groups. Growth will likely continue. This is due, in part, to a new collaborative agreement with Walk to Emmaus as well as strong support from pescadores in many Tres Dias and Catholic Cursillo communities. In addition, there is growing recognition on the part of prison officials.
“We have correction facility leaders asking Kairos to please come to their facility,” wrote Kairos Executive Director Evelyn Lemly in the spring newsletter.
Kairos gained additional national visibility this summer with the release of an eleven-minute PBS video documenting a Kairos weekend inside an Indiana Department of Corrections facility. The program played to an audience of one million viewers weekly shortly after release. Moreover, churches have linked to the show during Sunday service, and state and local Kairos chapters use the video to recruit volunteers.
For readers who are not familiar with Kairos Prison Ministry, the PBS video provides an upbeat view of weekend events. Many of the scenes will be familiar: poster sessions, palanca in the form of personal letters, snacks (cookies baked by volunteers), and lots of praise singing. There is a brief scene of a monthly reunion (similar to a Tres Dias secuela) when the team returns to the prison to support the faith group.
What the PBS video does not capture, however, are the personal stories of men and women facing themselves and their past, accepting the fact that God’s mercy is without measure, and then–often the hardest part of all–letting go of a lifetime of anger that will allow them to forgive others and begin life anew. Perhaps nowhere else are there so many stories showing Christ’s victory in helping men and women find a way out of the darkness of their lives. To hear a dozen such stories told firsthand, visit the newsroom of the My Kairos website.
Like Tres Dias and Walk to Emmaus, the Kairos program owes its parentage to the national Cursillo organization, which adapted the sequence of lay talks and mediations to fit the prison environment. Since its launch in 1976, the Kairos Inside program has expanded to 10 countries outside the U.S., becoming an international organization that serves incarcerated men in 300 institutions, women in 66 institutions. In addition, Kairos Outside supports 86 communities that minister to the spiritual needs of families coping with the incarceration of a family member. Thirty Kairos Torch programs support youth offenders.
“Only one thing is preventing us from growing faster,” an officer of a state chapter told us, “not enough volunteers. Our only limitation is not enough volunteers.”
Although Kairos strongly recommends that team members have experienced a three-day weekend before volunteering, exceptions can be made. For information about the Kairos programs in your area and how to serve, go to MyKairos.org, click the Where We Serve link, then click your state. –db