It's as easy as writing a few encouraging words and signing your name. Leaders of the Prison Ministries team in Eastern Pennsylvania want to remind us that "Everybody Can Do Something." They have created Christmas cards and encouraged church members in their area to take a little time and inscribe some to give to prisoners. The gesture "sends a powerful message of God's love to those who are incarcerated and remind them of their identity as God's sons and daughters at a time at which they may be feeling very much alone," according to one of the organizers.
(Locator: Valley Forge, PA)
(Volunteers read greetings on cards)
The Rev. Patrick Welch: “May the light of Christ brighten your path. Maggie.”
The Rev. Christopher Kurien: “Merry Christmas. God is always with you, writes Donna.”
Many of us write and receive lots of Christmas cards during the holidays.
(Volunteers read greetings on cards)
Linda McCrae: “God is always with you. Pat.”
Marilyn Schneider: “That works.”
These United Methodist volunteers want to make sure that inmates serving time in Pennsylvania get at least one.
The Rev. Patrick Welch, Friendship United Methodist Church: “Sometimes it’s the only piece of mail that they get for years and years because their families disown them. That’s what we’re trying to do. Make sure they know they’re loved.”
Linda McCrae: “Share the love and strength God provides you with those around you and with everyone you meet each day. Blessings to you. Donna.”
In 2016, 8,000 cards will make their way to 10 correctional facilities thanks to the work of hundreds of church members who wrote greetings for people they will probably never meet.
Scott Johnson, Royersford United Methodist: “It’s both a ministry for the inside, because it really does touch the hearts of the guys on the inside, and also for the people who send the cards.”
Scott Johnson carries cards everywhere he goes during the holidays.
Scott Johnson, Royersford United Methodist: “In Matthew 25, Jesus calls us to visit those who are in prison but not everyone is ready to go inside. This is a way for people to go inside in a virtual way and touch people’s hearts.”
Linda McCrae, West Lawn United Methodist Church: “Then there was the lady from our church and she leaned in and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this. My son is in prison in another state and I wish someone was doing this for him.’”
Marilyn Schneider, St. Matthew's United Methodist: “People will come up to me and they’ll start to share their stories of people they know who are incarcerated. And these are stories that I get a very strong sense they have not been able to share otherwise because this is not something that’s talked about.”
The Prison Ministry and Restorative Justice team from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference leads this effort and created simple, printable cards that churches anywhere can download, share and send to them to distribute.
Linda McCrae: “... a pair of white socks that the Salvation Army donates. Our church donates 1300 packs of cheese crackers.”
Linda McCrae’s church partners with other United Methodist churches to make care packages to accompany the cards.
Linda McCrae: “We go into all the cell blocks and we deliver them. You hear them talking in Bible study about how they are alienated from their families. And so they appreciate anything you are giving to them.”
(Welch counts cards) “I lost count. Okay, that’s 50, 51…”
The Rev. Patrick Welch, a United Methodist prison chaplain, says the handwritten messages are a treasured gift. Welch once ran into an inmate on the street long after release.
The Rev. Patrick Welch: “I saw him in Center City and he was like, ‘Pastor Pat, Pastor Pat,’ and he had it with him. Completely changed cities. That’s how much it meant to him, holding that card. Once I saw that, it made this more than just an exercise.”
Marilyn Schneider: “You could do this project as a Valentine’s Day…you could do it at 4th of July. You could do it any time of the year because people are always looking for some sense that someone on the outside is actually caring about them.”
Linda McCrae: "I'm praying for you. Merry Christmas. Julia."
Visit the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference website for more information and to download printable cards. The cards are carefully designed with words and images pre-approved by prison authorities. Suggested greetings and instructions are provided.
The New York Annual Conference heard about Eastern PA's Christmas cards for inmates project and launched a similar program. Organizers hope more churches and annual conferences will join the effort.
This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Joe Iovino.
This video was first posted on December 2, 2016.