By Jessica Brodie
MOUNT PLEASANT—One United Methodist pastor is hoping a simple Christmas card activity will morph into a full-fledged prison ministry, plus bring comfort and God’s love to people behind bars.
And it’s all thanks to the United Methodist connection and the power of telling God’s stories.
The Rev. Narcie Jeter, pastor of Point Hope United Methodist Church, Mount Pleasant, read an article shared by the United Methodist News Service about churches in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference who team up to write Christmas cards for inmates. The article, “Christmas Cards for Inmates Inspire Gratitude,” and a video United Methodist Communications subsequently produced (https://youtu.be/eo6MmRqM0JU) details how the churches partnered with other denominations to send more than 8,000 cards to 10 correctional facilities in eastern Pennsylvania.
“I thought it was a cool and neat idea and wouldn’t be that time-consuming and would make a big impact,” Jeter said. “It’s not hard to find a Christmas card and write ‘the light be with you’ or ‘love, light and Merry Christmas.’”
Jeter tried it in her church the first Sunday of Advent last year, providing the cards to her congregation (which she got from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference; no reinventing the wheel, she said) and encouraging the people to sign the cards there in their pews. The church provided stamps and sent about 90 cards to the nearby prison.
“The congregation gladly went for it,” Jeter said, noting they will be doing the activity again this year at Christmas.
Mason Coombs, a member of Point Hope and a senior at the College of Charleston, was excited to be a part of the project, which she said was a great way to be uplifting to the inmates during what she imagines can be an extremely tough time.
“Christmas is a time to be with family and celebrate Jesus, and they don’t get that. They don’t get to be with their families and go to church, so even a little thing like a card can make a difference,” Coombs said.
She wrote “God loves you” on her cards.
“I feel like they need God more than anyone else right now,” Coombs said. “It was just really special to be able to do that.”
Next: a prison ministry?
Now, Jeter and others are hoping other South Carolina United Methodists will not only send inmates Christmas cards but also go deeper in ministering to those in prison.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference has a Prison & Restorative Justice Ministries Team, and Jeter said she would love to see a grassroots effort spring up in South Carolina where United Methodists intentionally reach out in Christmas love to people behind bars.
As she said, both Jesus and Methodism’s founder John Wesley preached at prisons and went to the places the least of these were.
“I think we’re called as Christians to share God’s love in the world,” Jeter said. “There’s no place darker at Christmas than a prison, and that’s what my congregation responded to.”
She shared her ministry effort with South Carolina’s United Methodist Women at their Mission u event this summer, and she’s also been in conversation with the Revs. Amiri Hooker and Bernie Mazyck, of the Connectional Ministries Advocacy area, about this and other ways people can reach out to prisoners.
“It’s faith in action, faith lived out,” Jeter said.
“The church has to do its part to make sure our brothers and sisters feel connected with the love of Jesus while incarcerated, especially if we hope to have a sustained relationship when these individuals return to our communities,” Hooker said.
Hooker said the symbolism of Advent and Christmas giving is a sacred way of sharing in the bodies of Christ that we are as servants of the faith.
Anyone interested in talking further with Jeter about prison ministry or the Christmas card effort can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.