Then this past Thursday, I got joined a group of people from my church and took a road trip to Mitchellville, IA. More specifically, we went to the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women to participate in a worship services as part of a ministry called Women at the Well. Women at the Well is the church community at the Mitchellville prison that worships every Thursday evening. It's a United Methodist congregation, but remains open to people outside of that denomination.
Which doesn't explain why I was at the prison. Women at the Well actively invites visitors from other churches and organizations to fellowship with the women who worship there every week:
Jesus tells us that sometimes the greatest gift we can give to another person is simply to be present. As a visitor to Women at the Well, your presence is your gift. It reminds every woman incarcerated at ICIW that someone cares, that those outside the razor wire have not forgotten them. It reminds all of us that, through us, Christ is a very real presence in our world.Worship visitors go through a screening process and are given a list of strict rules before we visit. We are reminded that we aren't allowed to touch the residents and we need to be careful about what personal information we share. I have had some not-so-pleasant experiences with prison employees as a visitor in the past, so I was a bit leery about what to expect this past Thursday. But the prison staff were respectful and the ministers and volunteers were all warm and inviting.
Frankly, I'm still processing my experience with the Women at the Well. The members of my church were encouraged to spread out in the congregation and resist the urge to clump together. There were probably 75 people in the room. Maybe more or less. It was a contemporary worship service, mostly with praise music. But the sermon was meaty and the women were definitely feeling the Spirit. And their choir was amazing!
Part of the service was a presentation by the director of Youth & Shelter Services, Inc. and Teens Against Human Trafficking. Get this. The women raised money over the past two weeks to benefit YSS and managed to raise roughly $93. Keep in mind that they earn roughly twenty-five cents per hour for the work that they do in the prison. That's digging in deep!
In the end, it was humbling to be included in the residents' worship service and to witness their ministry. I anticipate that members from my church will look into ways to maintaining ties to this ministry in the future.