Ecumenism, Dialogue and Better Serving Prisoners

The third workshop of Lewis University’s Prison Ministry Leadership Curriculum was held on March 7-8 at Villa Maria Catholic Retreat & Conference Center in Springfield, Illinois.  The topic was “Ecumenism & Interfaith Cooperation in a Jail/Prison Setting.”  All eight cohort members were present as well as a special guest from Harvest Community Church, Pastor Frank Piszczor.  The conversation was engaging and productive as facilitators and cohort members shared challenges, experiences, rewarding relationships, and suggestions to one another regarding ecumenical encounters inside and beyond prison walls.

Insights were gleaned from various Vatican documents as well as statements made by the World Council of Churches, the Jewish and Muslim communities, and various theologians and practitioners from diverse traditions.  A few threads knit the workshop together and helped to guide our learning and conversations.  One was the various forms of dialogue which lead to greater unity and cooperation: Dialogues of Life, Action, Theological Discourse, and Religious Experience.  The Dialogue of Action, people from different religious traditions working side by side to dismantle an injustice or serve the community, emerged as vital in addressing the holistic needs of those affected by crime.  Another thread was the ideals of dialogic engagement set out by Michael Fitzgerald and John Borelli based on their experience in Interfaith Dialogue on behalf of the Vatican and the US Council of Bishops respectively.  Some of those ideals are: focusing on relationships between persons rather than institutions, striving for mutual understanding and enrichment, and the ideals of love and unity found powerfully articulated in the Gospel of John, chapter 17.  We also talked about the important balance of entering dialogue with firm convictions of our own while remaining open to Truth found in the story, perspective and beliefs of the other.

All of this learning was put into conversation with the specific goals we have in attempting to serve the needs of those who are incarcerated, their families, and those being released from prison.  The framework of restorative justice was frequently mentioned, and numerous practical ideas were shared, discovered, and articulated.  More on practical applications in my next blog.  In the meantime, if you’re curious about the Prison Ministry Leadership Curriculum, please visit our webpages at

About Dr. Christie Billups

Dr. Christie Billups is an assistant professor of Theology, Director of Pastoral Ministry, and Director of Service Learning at Lewis University. She has co-founded and co-directs the new Peace Studies Minor. She has been a practical, pastoral theologian in both academia and ministry in schools, jails, parishes, and hospitals. Some topics may include ministry with LGBT youth, juvenile justice, confronting racism, restorative justice and prison ministry.

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