Lent – Day 10: Church as Prison

Earlier in Lent I noted that I have been reading a collection of essays from a book called An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. These contributors are all members of a movement called emergent church. All are working at new ways of adapting Church to be vital and relevant institution in today’s society.

Yesterday I read an essay called "Jailhouse Faith." It is written by Thomas Olsen, a chaplain to a penitentiary in the US. To say it is a fresh approach is a gross understatement. This brief essay brings any person who is involved in church leadership to a halt, giving pause for thought to how we might be a better church. Here is Olsen’s summary

"It would be good for Christianity of churches imitated penitentiaries and encouraged their parishioners to act more like prisoners. (It took me three decades to come up with that one, which explains why I make my living as addictions counsellor instead of a church growth consultant.) But I think I am on to something. Every person needs one safe place where he or she is able to stop pretending, a place of ruthless honesty and unconditional love where no one is allowed to fly underneath the radar. It’s the type of setting we strive to create in prison – a culture where inmates regularly hear from each other: "I can’t con you; you can’t con me. I love you and I think you are full of crap and we are going to get through this together."

How true indeed that we all need a safe and honest place to be. Our church communities could use a great dose of that reality and that refreshing approach. Sadly, church is too often a place where we continue to pretend and continue to put on a mask. I pray that we may work to make our communities more open places; communities of unconditional love. I have known St. Mark’s by-the-Lake to be a place of great sincerity and honesty and I pray that others find the courage to be freely who they are in our church community. We have often sung – ‘All Are Welcome.’ I pray that we make that rue not only in word or song but in action as well. 

No so long ago I sent a report to the wardens at St. Mark’s where my typo referred to ‘prisoners’ instead of ‘parishioners.’ Perhaps it was prophesy at the time? Or it may have been my bad typing – either way my error at that that time seems not so bad now that I have learned of Thomas Olsen and his encouragement for all parishioners to act more like prisoners.

See you in jail!


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