For four years, I’ve been the pastor of Women at the Well, a congregation within a women’s prison in Mitchellville, Iowa. I meet some amazing women there. When I hear their stories, I can’t help thinking that I haven’t met many women like them in the churches I’ve known and pastored. It’s not because they aren’t in our communities. I used to think that drug abuse, domestic violence, economic hardship, and incarceration are problems that exist somewhere else. I know better today. Our neighbors suffer with concerns like these, down the street and right next door, no matter what our town looks like.
Our churches, in turn, sometimes shield us from the true diversity of our communities. In subtle ways, they can seem like fortresses that tell those outside that they are unworthy and unwelcome. Think about it: If you were coming out of prison, or if someone in your family was struggling with addiction, would the church feel open to you? If no one has yet believed your stories of abuse, would you see the church as a potential haven? If one of “those people” walked into your church, would they be welcomed?