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Hagar’s Community Church shows inmates God’s transforming love

‘A sanctuary for God’s beloved exiles’

by Lane Brubaker | Mission Crossroads

Every week, the women of Hagar’s Community Church celebrate communion together using a communion set made by an inmate from Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. His name is etched on the bottom and the women plan to write him a letter thanking him for his contribution to their worshiping community at WCCW. (Photo by Lane Brubaker)

LOUISVILLE — Last summer, I received a call to join Olympia Presbytery in planting a new worshiping community, Hagar’s Community Church, at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) — the largest women’s prison in Washington state.

This work I have been called to do has fundamentally changed me as a person. Being allowed to witness the lives of the women at the WCCW and worship alongside them weekly has opened my eyes to the realities of incarceration in the United States. It also has shown me how transformative God’s love can be.

Although it has been open only about six months, 30 women attend Hagar’s Community Church regularly. The church’s mission statement is to be a “Sanctuary for God’s Beloved Exiles at the WCCW.” That means providing the individuals at the WCCW with their own Christian community, to allow them to explore their spirituality and encounter the proclamation and experience of God’s love. The name of the church comes from the story of Hagar, found in Genesis 16 and 21. Much like the women at WCCW, the story of Hagar’s unkind history does not go unnoticed by the God who sees her.

The women in my congregation are living many people’s worst nightmares — they are separated from their family, especially their children. They have little freedom to make choices about their lives, and the world defines them by their worst mistake. Yet these women have shown me what it means to love one another, what it means to support each other, what it means to rely on God and what it means to joyfully come together in worship.

Rev. Lane Brubaker

The worship services I have the honor of leading each week are full of laughter, gratitude and love. The few from the outside who have had the privilege of being able to visit during worship say they are caught off guard by this. Expecting worship to be much more somber, they comment on the power of the women’s faith and how it speaks to and teaches them.

While sharing highs and lows during worship, one woman stated that her low for the week was coming to terms with the fact that she would be spending the next seven to 10 years at the WCCW. On the other hand, her high was that she would have Hagar’s Community Church to belong to during those years. She stated that being able to belong to a congregation is something she never imagined possible while incarcerated, and now having a Christian community to be a part of is life-giving and provides her something to look forward to. As she was sharing, I realized just how important it is that these women have a place where they are known not for their worst mistakes, but rather as God’s beloved.

Visit hagarscommunitychurch.com or on Instagram @hagarscommunitychurch.

The Rev. Lane Brubaker is pastor of Hagar’s Community Church, a new worshiping community at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. She and her husband, Crawford, previously planted Okra Abbey, a 1001 New Worshiping Community in the Pigeon Town neighborhood of New Orleans, where she also served as the Young Adult Volunteer site coordinator.

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This article is from the Summer 2019 issue of “Mission Crossroads” magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission and also available online at pcusa.org/MissionCrossroads.

 


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