Heeding God's call
Encouragement Ministry aids Meeker County inmates

On a Friday afternoon in mid-April, Jayne Otley and Carol Schumacher visit with two inmates in the Meeker County Jail library. A pair of Encouragement Klatch Ministry volunteers meets with female inmates at the facility weekly. Part of the shared experience involves praying together, during which time hands are held.  (Photo by Claudia Broman)

On a Friday afternoon in mid-April, Jayne Otley and Carol Schumacher visit with two inmates in the Meeker County Jail library. A pair of Encouragement Klatch Ministry volunteers meets with female inmates at the facility weekly. Part of the shared experience involves praying together, during which time hands are held.  (Photo by Claudia Broman)

by Claudia Broman
Prairie Catholic Correspondent

LITCHFIELD (The Prairie Catholic/May 2015) – Walk through the Meeker County Jail on a Friday afternoon and you might spy two volunteers holding hands, listening to, and praying with a small group of female inmates.

Encouragement Klatch Ministry involves a supportive meeting in an interview room or the jail library. It operates much like a small town coffee klatch – except coffee is not allowed, per jail policy.

Who attends the hour-long meeting changes from week to week, both in terms of the volunteers who come and the inmates participating, but the goal is the same: to provide encouragement and support.

Nancy Moyer, a resident of Eden Valley, Minn., and a parishioner at the Church of St. Gertrude in Forest City, founded the ministry group in the summer of 2014. It’s the first of its kind in Meeker County, organizers say.

Since its inception, volunteers have helped more than a dozen women, Moyer estimates.   

“I saw the need and was moved,” she said. She started the Klatch after participating in a separate co-ed scriptural ministry meeting for Meeker County inmates that emphasized reading Scripture and praying “lectio divina.”

When she had the initial idea for a ministry tailored to women, Moyer said, she knew it came from the Lord.

“I feel very proud that Nancy was able to follow the call to care for the imprisoned,” said Mike McNeil, pastoral associate for the Shepherd of Souls Area Faith Community, which includes St. Gertrude. He helped Moyer get the ministry off the ground.

“We want to foster ministers and leaders and how people grow their identities as ministers and leaders in the Church,” McNeil said. “It’s allowing the people to go where the Spirit moves them.”

The Klatch falls under the auspices of the Catholic Church, McNeil said, though its participants hail from numerous Christian faiths, including Methodist and Lutheran. McNeil and Moyer lead the ministry volunteers, along with Joyce Blomker, who attends St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Eden Valley, where she lives.

The cadre of ministry volunteers meets once a month to encourage one another in their work at the jail.  April’s meeting took place at the Main Street Café in Litchfield.

At the meeting with Blomker, McNeil, and Moyer were Jayne Otley of Eden Valley, who attends the Paynesville Grace United Methodist Church; Carol Schumacher of Darwin, a parishioner at St. John’s in Darwin; and Millie Turck from St. Gertrude.

They talked about the jail sessions: which volunteer pairs will visit the jail and when, and how leadership works during Klatch sessions.  They joked with each other as they ordered meals, and practiced an agenda they use at the jail, beginning with a reading and reflection, and concluding with personal prayers and petitions.

A meditation about healing from the Klatch’s go-to book, “One Minute with God for Women” by Hope Lyda, was discussion fodder.  Moyer pointed out a passage that spoke to her.

“I’ve been asking God to be with me a lot lately,” Moyer read.  Her peers nodded.

“What caught my eye is this, ‘I come to you with the hurts,’” McNeil said.

“And those I have ignored, too,” Schumacher adds. “Because sometimes they bury them,” referring to the inmates with whom they work.

One inmate who participated in the program, Katie Mae

Holmstrom of Litchfield, is now at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee.

In a letter, Holmstrom said she
wanted to make a positive change while at the Meeker County Jail and thought she’d try attending the Klatch, which she began looking forward to every week.

“They never judged me. They listened. They shared my sadness. They understood as best they could,” Holmstrom wrote. “And they helped me make it through my very stressful time.”

“This group helped me realize I am not a bad person; I’ve simply made mistakes,” she wrote. “I appreciated the encouragement, support, and understanding. (Something we don’t get much of in institutions.) I hope one day I can volunteer to help women … in my spot.”

The encouragement Holmstrom speaks of is what the Klatch is all about, McNeil said.

“It’s pastoral care. It’s comforting the afflicted, visiting the jailed, giving coats to the cold, giving food to the hungry, burying the dead,” he said. “We want to be the hands and face of Christ.”

McNeil and Moyer say the system used by the Encouragement Klatch Ministry could be easily replicated by other area faith communities.

For more information about how to start a jail ministry program in your community, contact Moyer at 320-453-6322 or visit www.churchofstgertrude.org.