Tuesday, November 8, 2016

For what are you created?

Last week in worship our reflection question was, For what are you created? Almost every woman around the morning and afternoon worship circles knew her answer. Those that were unsure were immediately given the reflection from the rest of the women of the gifts they had experienced in their hesitant sisters. In our afternoon service, when each woman had shared, a young woman piped up, How about you, Chaplain Julia?  Personally, I had been feeling somewhat sad about my upcoming birthday in the light of my mother's recent cancer diagnosis. But my answer came with a unexpected rush of joy. Soon I will be 62 and I am doing everything I have been created to do in my world!  I am living my dreams and visions. I was met with all the, "you look so good for your age" comments, but then one woman took charge and led them all in singing a Happy Birthday and God Bless You that rang out through the jail. Suddenly my sadness lifted and I knew that my day of birth could be a celebration, as well as my mother's fighting spirit and her long life on this earth.
For what am I created? For a ministry of mutuality, a sharing of presence, story and life.
Peace & gratitude, Julia

Thursday, September 22, 2016


As a looked around the room at our September 18  liaison meeting, initially I was disappointed by the numbers of people in attendance. My  second thought was, it is a rare and beautiful day outside and these folks are inside together to share ideas about creative ways to support the Madison Area Jail Ministry. This is a sacred call. Not just for myself, but for every person who commits to doing something for those who are incarcerated, for those willing to listen to Jesus' words to visit those in jail/prison.

This is the season of autumn. The element of water informs our jail worship. My basement is leaking and a young woman who is pregnant left jail without any of the support and protection  she needs. Let justice flow down like water and righteousness like an ever flowing stream…and what happens when it seems not to? We have spent money to fix our leaky basement. Time and effort were put in to support this young woman. Where is God in this? 

Money will need to flow into more basement repair  and prayers like a ever flowing stream will need to be prayed for this young woman. God is in the knowing that All Will Be Well, even when it isn't. We will have what we need to get through the wet, the despair. We can pray like the prophet Jeremiah, O, that my head were a spring of water & my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my people! We weep, we grieve and we clear our vision.

Rachel Naomi Remen:  Serving rests on the premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to  life and to that purpose…we are all connected.  Jail Ministry is a sacred call. I am not called to fix a broken system or broken people, I am called to serve. Even if we are just a few, we are being called to serve with sacred purpose and I believe great things will be done.

 Peace & gratitude, Julia

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Still summer...

As I return from an intense week of study that focused on the book, Counseling Women; A Narrative, Pastoral Approach by Christie Cozad Neuger, I bring with me the heart of the matter, the question,  how will this book inform development of spiritual care and weaving with women within the context of violence, betrayal, incest, rape, domestic abuse? 
Mary Pellauer says…if there is anything worth calling theology, it is listening to people's stories—listening to them and honoring them and cherishing them and asking them to become even more brightly beautiful than they already are. (71) 
What if seeking spiritual care with Chaplain Julia was not about 'something being wrong' but rather, something being very right that needs embracing and nourishing? What if it is a time for conversation and prayer about the aspects of an individual woman's life that are positive, in spite of incarceration? And what if there is a sense of celebration in our time of spiritual care, even if we have to cry together first?  
…the counselee has the resources she needs within her own narrative… (89) …it is important in the healing process to focus on women's strengths and resources rather than deficits and pathology. (120) 
The theme that the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem runs through this book. So often women, and I am certain that this applies to men as well, have 'mal-adapted'. They have found ways of surviving by adapting to dangerous family and community systems.  
…in order for women to find themselves and develop authentic voice and narrative, they must separate from the definitions of and beliefs about themselves that have been developed as part of the process of harmful adaptation…at a personal level, this kind of change is difficult and frightening. (131) 
But not impossible. As I write the faces of women come to me. Women I know  who have found their voices, clarified their challenges, learned to make new choices and stay connected to their Creator and the people that love them into new life.  
In the chapter, Coming to Voice in the Context of Intimate Violence, Lenore E. A. Walker states that African American women are the most at risk for rape at some point in their lives. (106) The same day I read this chapter, the lead story of the Cap Times is Silent Survivors; In assault cases, women of color struggle to be heard. This important article challenges us to consider the resources we are providing specifically for women of color. In the Dane County Jail, women and men of color are incarcerated at a rate that does not reflect their membership in our community. A piece of healing this unbalance is providing safe places of care and prevention.  For those of us who have benefited from 'white' privilege it is essential to consider how our community spends our money. How do we provide care for the most vulnerable in our community?  
Where did these beliefs come from? When were things different? ...it is within the woman's own life experience that the hopeful future resides—not in changing her but in helping her find the creative possibilities that have always been part of her… (133) Narrative theory insists that the counselor operate from a position of not-knowing. (189)
 I am considering how to create the individual time necessary for women to connect with spiritual care through the gift we have been given in weaving, Perhaps it is time to make appointments with women as they leave incarceration and return to their families and communities. I would need to carve out the time to meet with women at that crucial time of transition. I connect with them in worship and through answering the many yellow request slips for journasl, Bibles, stamped envelopes or individual spiritual care. The next step is the connection in the community. I would appreciate the prayers of this Jail Ministry community around this intention. 
The well-boundaried, wholistic, woman-centered and competent pastoral counselor can make a connection that serves to re-member the community of support for a counselee who has found herself withdrawn from it…(175) 
This book began its preface by identifying confidence as a key to spiritual care with women. It ends with that hope.
When counselees begin to realize that they do have choices and at least some power to make meaning out of their life experiences, they begin to have confidence in a future story that has meaning for them. (188) 
Peace & gratitude, Chaplain Julia

Thursday, June 9, 2016



This summer I want to take some time to understand my story. I was inspired by my galvanizing experience attending The Power of Storytelling at United Theological Seminary. I believe that a key piece of my ministry with woman at the jail is helping them to feel safe enough to understand their story. It may even mean that they discover the power to change their story from one of suffering, living in an oppressed place (Keynote speaker, Valerie Tutson), to one of hope. In listening to  my own story I hope to envision the support I will need, such as Clinical Pastoral Education, to continue to deepen and develop this ministry.
How does one unlock the stories of intergenerational grief? Could we incorporate narrative community conversations to assist in restorative justice and recovery?  What of your story do you want me to know? How can I be of assistance? These are questions that arose in my workshops for myself and the women I serve. I purchased the book Counseling Women by Christie Neuger, a well-respected voice in the field of Pastoral Theology and Counseling to assist me in the task of pondering these questions.
The most important insight I took with me is especially applicable to the women I work with who are so often scorned and cast aside by their families and communities because of the choices they are making. It is sometime too easy to forget that there are deep seated reasons for those choices of desperation. They are themselves cries for help.  The insight is,  the problem is the problem; the person is not the problem.
Peace & gratitude, Julia

Thursday, April 21, 2016


            Since the beginning of this year our jail ministry has been incredibly full of life. Every week we have visitors from the community joining groups, such as Women's/Men's Beginnings. These groups are available to individuals  who have  Huber work release privileges or have been released and want to continue their support.  New volunteer opportunities have flourished from those who visit from the community. For example, we have a woman who leads   writing groups  now bringing  writing prompts to our Women's Beginnings  group. When we share what we have written in response we see how these prompts deepen and expand our conversations. We have also  begun fruitful conversations around the 6 core values of the Dane County Sheriff's Office. These  intriguing conversations also occur at our Women's Beginnings Group with a staff member from the jail. The 6 core values are:
                                                                                    Professional Excellence
We approach each value by defining what it means to us individually, within the jail setting and then hear from the attending staff what it means to and how it is practiced  by  the  Dane County Sheriff's Office.
            I recently came across a term used by Irene Sullivan, retrieving souls. I believe our conversations  are part of that work. As a chaplain the  responsibility  is to create a place of safety for individuals to participate in the retrieving of their  souls. They have been lost to their own sense of spirituality and they need a companion/s on their journey.  A young  women who has been a regular participant describes it like this:
I enjoy going to Beginnings because…[I] get to know…a bit more about  another woman who [I] may not have known otherwise. Also I feel like it helps me open up about myself and share my story a bit too.
Conversations, retrieving our souls, sharing our stories.
Gratitude to all who support this ministry.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Our guest blogger, Marian Korth

So why am I thinking so much about neighbors today?
Sheriff Mahoney
Sheriff Mahoney
A week and a half ago I went to the annual meeting of the Jail Ministry. Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney was a special guest at this meeting, and he gave a short talk about the needs of inmates. Sheriff Mahoney said that his biggest hope is that the people of Dane County would stop thinking of jail inmates as violent criminals getting exactly what they deserve by being incarcerated, but rather think of jail inmates as their neighbors. He said that 80% of the inmates are in jail for crimes related to their addiction to drugs or alcohol. They need healing, not punishment. Mahoney said that in his 35 years of law enforcement experience, he has not known even one inmate that was rehabilitated just by being kept in a cage for a while. For all inmates who have been successfully rehabilitated, they succeeded because they were in an environment that provided the resources that enabled them to heal. The chaplains and volunteers of the Jail Ministry are an important part of those resources – people who care, who listen, and who try to help the healing process.
Mahoney closed his remarks by coming back to his biggest hope – that we all start thinking of inmates as our neighbors.
The dictionary defines neighbor in geographic terms – "a person living near another." [www.merriam-webster.com] But the Bible broadens the definition of neighbor significantly, as this New Testament incident illustrates.
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"
He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"
He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
"Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live."
Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"
Jesus answered by telling a story. "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
"A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.'
"What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?"
"The one who treated him kindly," the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, "Go and do the same." [Luke 10:25-37 The Message]