Dear Teachers and Parents,
As a Sunday School family, we are committed to teaching our children not only the “nuts and bolts” of our faith, but also how to put that faith, and the love of Christ, into action. Consequently, over the years we have sponsored many outreach programs for our students, e.g., making cards for Vets, putting together meals for the Life Center Shelter in Upper Darby, organizing hygiene kits for IOCC to distribute to those in greatest need after natural disasters and/or war, and providing filled backpacks for homeless and poverty stricken children, and many more. However, we have never, to our knowledge, participated, in any way, in prison ministry.
This past week, we took a small step towards serving those in prison by participating in an outreach established by our sister parish, Annunciation, Elkins Park. After putting out a call for needed items, our generous Sunday School families donated Thanksgiving themed plates, napkins, cups, aluminum serving pans and serving spoons to a Philadelphia charity named Why Not Prosper, established by a formerly incarcerated woman to serve both those currently incarcerated, as well as those recently released (https://www.why-not-prosper.org/about.html). Why Not Prosper will provide Thanksgiving dinner to 300 female inmates at the Philadelphia Industrial Corrections Center. We are very humbled to have been able to participate in this initiative, and are very grateful to those who contributed items for this cause. We now humbly ask if you, our Sunday School teachers and parents, would consider using this opportunity to create at least part of a lesson, whenever it would be most appropriate to do so, about the importance of prison ministry either at church or at home. This lesson, at this time of year, could be tied into discussions about Thanksgiving, or greater service and spiritual focus during the Nativity Fast. A lesson, possibly inspired, in grade appropriate ways, by this passage from the Gospel of Matthew:
Matthew 25: 31-40 (New King James Version)
The Son of Man Will Judge the Nations
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the [c]holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
It is true that we did not actually visit the prisoners, as the Lord commands us to do in this passage from Matthew. These days, visiting a prison, while not impossible, can be a very difficult, complicated thing to do, especially with young people. Instead, we sent the women some things to let them know that they are not forgotten, that people care about them, and that there is hope in the new life that awaits them once their sentence has been served. So, we are encouraging you to conduct a lesson about answering Christ’s call to serve others, specifically, those in prison. Here are some examples of things you might talk with the children about (in addition to your own ideas, of course):
For the older kids: What would it be like in prison, living in a cell, and separated from all the people and things you know and love? What kinds of things might someone do to end up in prison? Remind the students of the imprisonment of St. John the Baptist, St. Luke, etc. You can have them look upexamples of other saints who were put in prison, through no fault of their own, in the Acts of the Apostles- an in-class project. Discuss: how can we help those in prison turn their hearts to good things? How can we help those in prison not feel lonely and dejected? How can we help those in prison not lose faith in God?
For the younger kids: Simpler versions of the above questions, along with a talk about how sometimes people make very bad decisions in life, or bad choices, and have to go away to live in a prison far from their families and friends.
You may get a variety of concrete answers from the children. Some of them may have no answers at all. No matter what, though, there is one thing that everyone can do for prisoners:
Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, come to the aid of those in prison and grant them Your peace in the midst of this difficult time in their lives. I believe Lord, that all of the trials of life are under Your care and that all things work for the good of those who love You. Take away from those in prison all fear, anxiety and distress. Help them to face and endure incarceration with faith, courage and wisdom. Grant that this trial may bring them closer to You for You are our rock and our refuge, our comfort and our hope, our delight and our joy. I trust in Your love and compassion. Blessed is Your name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
From The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry website: A Prayer for Prisoners
Thanks to each of you for considering this request as we enter the Nativity Fast, a very busy time of year for us all. We just did not want to lose this opportunity to convert a service project into a true teaching moment.
Wishing you a blessed Nativity Fast and holidays to come,
Antigone, Jane, and Sophia