Prison ministry is a vital, important outreach in the LCMS. Because of this ministry, prisoners receive care, counseling, support, and meaningful materials. And for the families of prisoners, it provides a connection with someone who is able to minister to their loved one.
Lutheran Ministry Services Northwest is the main conduit for prison ministry in the NOW District. LMSN provides a chaplain serving at the King County Jail four days per week, Tim Johnson, who is in charge of spiritual care and leads Bible study. He recently wrote in the LMSN newsletter: “Men thank me every week for coming. I tell them that I’m here because God has opened the door for me to come, and I’m simply doing what the Lord has called me to do.”
LMSN Executive Director Don Sundene serves as prison coordinator for the district (go here to read more about him and a recent award he was honored with). He utilizes a team of chaplains available to reach from Oregon to Alaska to various parts of Washington; he additionally is able to reach out into the community with local pastors as needed. Sundene explains: “Many have not heard the gospel and need to know that all are forgiven. That Christ paid for our sins on the cross.”
Some examples of the type of requests LMSN receives:
– A family calls to ask for help for their son who is in a prison in Washington. The pastor agrees to meet with the parents and to visit the prison.
– A call comes in from a father whose son is incarcerated at the federal prison in Lompoc, California. “Arrangements have been made with the prison chaplain to communicate for us by mail,” he said. “We send ‘Portals of Prayer’ quarterly. A prison Ministry Bible, ‘Free on the Inside,’ has also been sent.”
– A pastor in southern Oregon ministers to and baptizes a resident inmate serving 13 years. When the inmate is released from serving his time, the church of the visitation pastor welcomes him into their congregation.
LMSN is an RSO of the LCMS; it also provides pastoral care to patients, families, and staff at Seattle area hospitals and care centers. Think of it as an all-encompassing network of care for those who need it most.
“LMSN started in 1938 by three ladies in Seattle Lutheran churches reaching out into the community serving in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and jails – all volunteer-driven. In 1942, the first chaplain was called,” Sundene said. “I became involved in 1985 at the urging of my aunt, who was involved in LMSN. Our first chaplain was the father of Boots Winterstein, wife of Pastor Paul Winterstein.”
Prison ministry and the connections LMSN offers really make a difference – while someone is incarcerated, and also afterward.
“It is not only visitation on the inside proclaiming the Gospel,” Sundene said, “it’s also on the outside, with recidivisms at more than 50% in 1-3 years.”
House of Mercy, which has 28 halfway houses in Washington state, offers housing and social services after a resident has served their sentence and is released back into society. LMSN partners with the nonprofit group by offering spiritual literature and collecting clothing and furnishings. Sundene said the goal is to do everything possible to stop residents from reentering an incarceration situation.