A Mission Support story from the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod.
Over 600,000 people are released from prison every year and as they struggle to rejoin society, they face barriers connecting with reentry service providers. We are honored that so many ELCA synods and congregations are active in prison ministry; yet they know the challenge of finding reliable and effective resources to support folks once they’ve been released.
Our synods are supporting reentry ministry: the Metropolitan Chicago Synod helped start the work and the Grand Canyon Synod has launched the innovative online resource the Inside Out Network (ION), a one-of-a-kind platform that helps returning citizens connect with the support they need for a successful reentry. The Grand Canyon Synod has made a strong commitment, awarding ION an “Adapting, Connecting, Transforming and Sustaining” grant so it can help people access ministries and service providers.
ION is a bit like eHarmony: returning citizens and service providers can find each other and exchange messages, even before release, to make sure returning citizens get the support they need as soon after release as possible. What started as a prison ministry from an ELCA church in the Chicago area is now operating in Illinois and Arizona and launching soon in Oregon, with 6,400 returning citizens and 443 service providers and ministries enrolled. ION is always free to returning citizens, and service providers participate free of charge for a year before paying a modest annual fee.
With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, ION has gone into Arizona prisons to train staff on using the platform. This has led to inmates enrolling before their release; reports indicate that as release approaches, they are less anxious, seeing ahead of time what help will be available.
ION values its partnerships with ministry and is currently developing a Reentry Congregational Initiative, gathering insights from faith communities that intentionally minister to returning citizens. Many ELCA congregations work in this area, and we welcome any insights they might provide by completing this survey. ION intends to develop a guidebook called “Effective Reentry Ministry for Ordinary Congregations”; its valuable “Spiritual Survival Guide for Prison and Beyond” can be read or downloaded free of charge from the ION website at insideoutnetwork.net/resources.
Editor’s Note: Your NC Synod Mission Support dollars support ministries beyond our synod—across the ELCA. Thanks be to God for your generous giving which serves returning citizens in these places so far away. Together, we are church!
As you read this story, what questions arise?
Is your synod or region involved in prison ministry? If so, how?
Is your congregation involved in prison ministry?