Faith leaders learn about Healing Communities Partnership

Faith leaders learn about Healing Communities Partnership

Faith leaders learn about Healing Communities Partnership

Story and photo submitted by the Rev. Melanie Martin-Dent, Interim Pastor, Grace UMC

Doug Walker, National Coordinator for Criminal Justice Reform, United Methodist Church (UMC) General Board of Church and Society, had the opportunity to meet with about a dozen people in Missoula on Aug. 11, including three from the UMC, three from Freedom in Christ Prison Ministry (FIC), several people from Missoula Interfaith Coalition (MIC), including a Buddhist, an Orthodox priest and a Presbyterian minister and a returning citizen to get acquainted and to introduce the Healing Communities Partnership to us.

Jana Staton said, "Doug carries authority in a quiet, open and non-defensive way. He's here to listen on this visit, find out what we're already doing, not doing a selling job on the 'Healing Communities model' and components."

"Healing Communities is a framework for congregations to develop their own plan of actions that fits their context, community," Staton added. "So it's very open, and includes work with families of incarcerated, support for someone indicted or in jail, ministry to victims, not just re-entry. The other good news from my perspective, is that he clearly envisions congregational involvement as leading to advocacy for systemic change, criminal justice reform."

Doug also participated in a conference call with Landee Holloway, Re-entry Coordinator for the Montana State Department of Corrections, to learn about plans for re-entry programs in the state.

The following day on Aug. 12, Doug had the opportunity to attend a FIC Bible Study and worship service at Montana State Prison, Deer Lodge, to have a tour of the prison, meet Warden Leroy Kirkegaard and the Religious Activities Staff, share meals with several people from FIC, and to interact with some of the inmates. Warden Kierkegaard mentioned that he had reviewed the work Doug is doing and is quite impressed, and that he would be willing to support this endeavor and assist an any way possible.

Thursday morning's meeting Aug. 13 was attended by our host pastor, Teresa Kendall, David Burt, Yellowstone Conference Assistant to the Bishop, David Andersen, pastor of Aldersgate UMC in Butte, Rocky Lyons and Tasha Whiteshield, Butte Rescue Mission executive director and development coordinator, Rob Nedbalek, Bea Rosenleaf, Melanie Martin-Dent from Freedom in Christ, and of course, Doug Walker.

Among other things, we learned that Doug has done the training in many different faith communities from Methodist to Muslim as well as to secular groups such as law enforcement personnel in Seattle. The Methodist church asks that there be at least three teams of 3 to 5 people from United Methodist congregations in order to put on a training, and it is helpful to have the pastor attend so she or he understands the ministry and can support it effectively. The Healing Communities training is a six-hour program, and can either be offered as a one-day training or in two 3-hour sessions in the evening.

By the end of Thursday's meeting, our tentative plans were to schedule another visit in the fall. At that time, Doug would offer Healing Communities training in Missoula and Butte (also Spokane), then travel to do the same type of introductory meeting he did here in other communities such as Bozeman, Billings, Havre, Helena, and possibly the Kalispell area. We have been in touch with pastors on the Fort Peck, Rocky Boys, and Blackfeet reservations, and plan to meet with people from these and other tribal communities during this trip.

In summary, it was a busy and productive time we had together. We are excited about this partnership and looking forward to our work together in the future.

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