by Karen Tisinger, for Women at the Well
Calling Women at the Well “a ministry worthy of our support,” Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble led approximately 120 Iowa United Methodists and ecumenical leaders in celebrating the work of the seven-year-old church—the denomination’s first prison congregation in the U.S. (Women at the Well United Methodist Church is located inside the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women at Mitchellville.)
The March 16 celebration included special organ and handbell selections by musicians from host First UMC in Des Moines, vocal music by the Burns UMC choir, and interpretive dance by Interplay, a three-member liturgical ensemble.
In his message, “The Other Woman at the Well,” the bishop reflected on the Gospel account from which the prison congregation took its name: the John 4 story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. While the woman "did not have a pain-free life," the bishop said, Christians "have a long history of assuming the worst about women in the Bible.
"Too often, we read into this text far more than is there," he said, "and missing the blessing of what is there: a holy conversation, an encounter with the One who offers us living water.”
Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well, he said, reminds us "that our past does not predict or provide the promise of our future.” Likewise, he noted, "Women at the Well is a reminder that God sees us. And even though bars and walls, barbed wire, and [prison's] rules and regulations may keep some of us inside, all of us have been offered the living water of Jesus Christ, who says: 'I see you. I value you. I need you, and I love you."
Following worship, participants had the opportunity to learn more about other programs serving and advocating for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs the needs of incarcerated women in Iowa. On hand were representatives of: Women at the Well's Re-entry Program, Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Prison Congregations of America, and the Iowa office of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.