Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A couple of weeks ago, I accompanied my friend, Father Paul Christy, to serve Divine Liturgy at death row here in my home state of North Carolina.
What does Liturgy on death row look like? It’s about as bare bones as it can get.
The room was a drab multipurpose room where we used a folding table for the altar table. We put our small icons out and constructed an altar as best as we could. The only people there were Father Paul, myself chanting, and the man we came to visit, James, who had been baptized into the Orthodox Church in prison in 2015.
Throughout the service my mind drifted, remembering that this is the only way James has or ever will experience the Divine Liturgy. Central Prison, which houses North Carolina’s death row, is strangely situated in downtown Raleigh. Yet for the isolation James experiences here, the prison might as well be in the middle of a desert. James’ experience of the Liturgy stands is such contrast to my home parish, which is only five minutes away from Central Prison and is bursting at the seams. There are children everywhere, often more people than seats, and of course there are all of the smells and sounds we are familiar with at church. I am so thankful that I am able to worship with such a large family every week.
However, over the last few days, and especially during the Christmas service, I have found myself overwhelmed with the feeling that James is with me in church, that he can somehow feel our prayers reaching him, just a few miles from our altar table.
In these sacred moments of the Divine Liturgy we truly are not alone. We enter into the body of the Church with the angels, the saints, and all of creation, praising one God. That we could be there with James, to offer this simple Liturgy alongside him in a mystical way, sets him free in every sense of the word. In our worship, we all become partakers of this same freedom, and this so acutely highlights the burning need and very personal nature for prison ministry.
I can’t tell you how important your prayers and your support are to OCPM. Though we are the national prison ministry of the Orthodox Church, we are still funded almost entirely through local parishes and individual people like you. Without people getting up to volunteer and donate, Orthodox prison ministry in the US would not exist. These men and women in prison would be cut off from the Church.
Since 2020, OCPM has experienced incredible, almost startup-like growth. This year alone, we opened 191 new case files of men and women in prison who are either Orthodox or inquirers, seeking a relationship with the Church, bringing our total active relationships with people in prison to 1,246. This is not to mention the dozens of volunteers, clergy, and parishes OCPM staff are also supporting around the country with unique resources and personal coaching.
However, our rapid growth comes with new challenges. For the first time in our recent history, there are now men and women in prison on the Penpal Ministry waiting list, hoping to be matched with a volunteer to walk alongside them in their spiritual journey. Our dedicated Prison Relationship Managers (PRMs) are currently meeting the needs of over 600 people each on their caseloads.
This ministry is needed to badly by so many.
What are we going to do?
We must do more. We must not abandon the men and women whom our Lord has commanded us to visit.
Whatever you are able to offer to this ministry at this time– a simple prayer, a donation, or becoming an OCPM Advocate in your parish– please know it is very needed and very appreciated by me, our Board, our staff, our Hierarchs, and most importantly, those we serve.
I’ll leave you with some words that were recently sent to one of our PRMs, Deacon Toby, that I believe extend to all of you:
“This is the time of year when we give thanks. We gather with friends, family, and other loved ones to spend time together, relieve old times, and Thank God for the many blessings He has bestowed on us one the past year.
One of the multitude of blessings God has given me is you. I Thank God every day for your being in my life. My life would be infinitely less without you in it. So, thank you, too. Grab someone you love and give them a big hug from me. God bless you.”
Thank you for your continued commitment to Christ’s commandment to visit Him in prison.
In gratitude and love for this year and every year,