Program Brings Religion To Detention Center Inmates

Chaplains Have Faith That Prisoners Get Spiritual Guidance

March 06, 1991|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A prison chaplaincy at the Carroll County Detention Center involves counseling, giving inmates a new direction and, occasionally, even a wedding.

But, most of all, it gives prisoners caring contact with the outside world.

"Maintaining that contact during incarceration helps (inmates) know they are not going to be forgotten once they get out," said the Rev. Shelton Smith, pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Westminster.

Members of 13 religious organizations -- coordinated by the Rev. David Duley, chaplain for the center -- take turns presenting services to inmates on Sundays and leading them in Monday night Bible studies.

The volunteers from Westminster Baptist, Westminster Bible, First Assembly of God, Clearfield Bible, Frizzelburg Bible, Church of the Open Door, Wakefield Bible, Four Square Gospel, St. John's Catholic, the United Church of Christ churches -- all in Westminster -- Uniontown Bible, the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship and the Gideons serve four times a year.

"We mostly rotate the Sunday afternoonservice," Duley said. "We rotate on a more limited basis on Monday since we like more continuity for the Bible study."

The hour-long services -- usually ecumenical in nature -- include hymns, contemporary Christian songs, sermons and Bible stories, volunteers said.

"Wedon't specifically preach our church, we preach about Jesus Christ,"said Richard Owens, who works with Westminster Baptist and the Gideons. "We talk about what Jesus can do for the individual and what he means to us."

Inmates also have the right to request individual counseling, Duley said.

"I probably see about five to 10 (inmates) a week," he said. "There are scores of pastors involved from time to time, whether the inmate is from their church or just related to someone from their church."

"Counseling can be anything from just plain listening to providing basic advice or encouragement," said Smith. "Most of the time, you just need to be a good listener."

References for individual Bible study are provided by the Good News Mission, said Doug Hoey, director of chaplains for the Alexandria, Va.-based organization that trains prison chaplains internationally.

The missionprovides inmates with a correspondence course of 136 lessons -- verse-by-verse studies of 12 books of the New Testament -- and certificates for each eight lessons completed. Prisoners earn a diploma when they finish the course.

"When they get into their own study of the Bible, they reach their own conclusions, and it gives them moral principles to live by," said Duley. "Some have never received any kind of commendation, so they appreciate that reward for their work."

While each pastor said they felt they had helped the inmates, they declined to give individual examples.

"My purpose is to glorify the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ," said Mark Pfieffer of First Assembly of God. "If there are any people there to receive the spirit of Christ, the glory and honor goes to God."

Although lawyers often use inmates' religious beliefs to gain a lighter sentence or early parole, Duley discourages inmates from using the program for legal leverage.

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