St. Matthews is partnered with West Lawn United Methodist Church (West Lawn) and Zion Baptist Church (Reading) to help serve the Halfway Church Ministry. We serve dinner the 4th Thursday of each month at St. James Chapel, 11 S 9th Street, Reading. Dinner is served at 6:30 pm. Reverend McCracken graciously donates his parish’s fellowship hall for these dinners. Below is an article from The Reading Berks Conference of Churches website. It describes the Prison Ministry of which Halfway Church Ministry is a piece.
The Berks County Jail System is under contract with the Reading Berks Conference of Churches for the provision of jail chaplains and chapel staff for the provision of religious services and programs for the entire inmate community. Approximately 400 congregations work cooperatively with the chapel staff to assure that the religious needs of the inmates are met.
The following supportive services are also provided by chaplain staff and approximately 200 volunteers to connect inmates with the outside community for rehabilitation and continued growth:
- Weekly one on one chapel visits between inmates and clergy, or designated religious representatives
- The weekly “Halfway Church” ministry provides a sense of community around a shared meal, along with support, prayer and fellowship for released inmates
- The Lazarus Project Team Mentoring program provides a healthy support system for inmates nearing release, and for eligible individuals who were recently released into the community
During the winter holidays, congregations and other organizations often place a greater emphasis on reaching out to prisoners. There is an awareness of the heaviness weighing on inmates because of the separation from family and friends. Each year staff and volunteers tour the jail, going from cell to cell with gifts of warm socks and chocolate candies. This year a volunteer remarked that he was astounded at the gratitude and joy exhibited by so many of the inmates who received these items. He expressed his wish that we had more to give, but realized that what was given was not nearly as important as how it was given! The real gift was to look into the eyes of the inmate, acknowledging him as a brother.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) These words are not spoken to angels, but to sinful, broken, wounded human beings who are challenged to become all that we were created to be. In the same chapter of this account, we hear, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt was a symbol of God’s indissoluble covenant with humanity and all creation. Looking into the eyes of another, and exclaiming (aloud or silently) the words, “You are the light of the world, the salt of the earth” is one very empowering act! Some of us were empowered by the inmates that day, and we trust that they too were empowered by us. Unlike material gifts, these are clearly the exchanges that set captives free; the exchanges that loose the chains that bind.
Each of us is continuously called out of our comfort zone, to uncover the reality of God’s Presence, God’s Kingdom in and among us. Laborers are called by name into the vineyard of this jail.