DC Church Focuses Its Sunday Message On Helping Former Prisoners

The National Community Church, a multi-site congregation based in the district, has planned a timely message for its members this Sunday: Give former prisoners a second chance.

The Reverend Mark Batterson, the Assemblies of God minister who leads the 5,000-member congregation, said it was “a pure expression” of the Christian gospel to help those coming out of prison find work, a housing and other services to prevent them from reoffending and returning to prison.

Mr Batterson and his church are among congregations nationwide taking part in ‘Second Chance Sunday’, an initiative of Prison Fellowship, the outreach founded by the late Chuck Colson after Nixon’s former aide was imprisoned for misdemeanors during Watergate.

The organization specializes in inmate family support programs, helping prisoners find spiritual direction, and working with released convicts to start their lives over.

April is designated by the group as “second chance month,” to draw attention to the needs of returning inmates, and the group received a boost on Thursday when President Biden issued a House proclamation White for this purpose.

Kelly Friedlander, Prison Fellowship’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, said it was important that congregations such as Mr Batterson’s were on the front lines of helping families with an inmate behind bars or who is returned to society.

“The church is called to care for people who are in prison,” Ms Friedlander said. “Unfortunately, from the surveys we do with Barna Research, we know that incarceration and criminal justice issues are not often discussed from the pulpit. Our goal is really to provide materials to enable pastors and congregational ministers to easily raise the issue with their, with their congregations, to really begin to raise awareness of the role that the church plays in caring not only for people who are incarcerated, but also their children and their families.

Mr Batterson, a best-selling author who has published 22 books, told the Washington Times that letters from inmates who read his posts were part of the motivation to take action.

“One way or another, these books get into the hands of those who are in prison,” he said in a telephone interview. “I have received thousands of letters over the past 15 years, and we have a small group that prays over those letters and where we can we try to step in and be helpful and be a voice of encouragement and love.”

The “Second Chance Sunday” message, Mr Batterson said, will be to encourage church members who are in business to hire released prisoners.

“Finding a job is much harder” as a former offender, he noted, “especially if you have a crime on your record.”

According to the Prison Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group in Northampton, Mass., poverty is “the strongest predictor of recidivism” among released prisoners, whose unemployment rate is 27 percent, or just over seven times the overall US unemployment rate of 3.8. % for February 2022.

Mr Batterson said helping those who have returned from prison find work is a way of living the message he preaches every week.

“The driving force behind it all is that Jesus had a huge heart and was moved with compassion for those in need,” Mr Batterson said. “And we want to be like Jesus, we want to love our city in a practical and spiritual way.”

He said the 1.5 million children with a parent in prison and the 70 million adults with criminal records deserve help.

“It’s caring for those who need a second chance,” he said. “Last time I checked, there’s not a single person who didn’t need a second chance, a third or a 100th chance. Every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to God.

Ms Friedlander from Prison Fellowship added: “The message we are trying to get across with Second Chance Month is that once people have paid their debt for the crime they have committed, we really call the church and communities at large to ensure people have a chance to succeed. »

Jerry B. Hatch