A large crowd of United Methodists gathered in Ames this past weekend to celebrate 10 years of vital ministry helping forgotten, abused and underprivileged women, Women at the Well. Women at the Well (WATW) is a church congregation within the walls of the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women (ICIW) in Mitchellville, east of Des Moines.
Click here to see an album of images from the anniversary worship celebration
Women at the Well was first envisioned by Bishop Gregory Palmer after holding exploratory meetings with the Iowa Department of Corrections. On Feb. 8, 2007, Women at the Well was officially consecrated and led by Rev. Arnette Pint. Women at the Well provides support and sisterhood for women at the prison.
According to its website
, Women at the Well’s mission is “to empower women to change their lives and return to the community as healthier productive citizens.” It also strives to “inspire people to reach their full potential in life by modeling the way.”
Earlier this year, Bishop Laurie Haller joined current pastor Lee Schott, district superintendents and Women at the Well volunteers for a 10-year celebration at the prison. The women gave different reasons for attending, but one thing was clear, they stayed because the spirit moved them.
Letting Go into the Night
Bishop Haller’s sermon recalled the night in February she delivered the Word to the women at the prison. She recalled that once in the prison, she had to “let go” of control because every action and movement was made when the prison guards said it was time to do so. Go through a metal detector one-by-one. Wait for the door to open. Wait for the door to close. Wait for another door to open. Wait for the door to close. Wait in this room. No touching the prisoners. No taking things from prisoners, unless prior approval was given. No giving things to prisoners. The women in the prison, though, didn’t have a choice to let go of families or children, Haller reflected.
Click here to see the video of the live stream of the service
“They didn’t have a choice, but the rest of us do,” said Haller. “I prayed for the women at Mitchellville, as well as for those hired to watch over them, and for the volunteers, that we might become sacraments of grace and hope for each other.”
Weekend of Celebration
Schott and the volunteers of Women at the Well turned the weekend into a celebration and a learning experience. On Saturday, April 1, Women at the Well hosted a workshop called “The Crisis of Mass Incarceration Right Next Door: Becoming Stations of Hope.” It highlighted the mass incarceration of United States citizens. The US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world.
The mass incarceration has an effect on communities and families. Speaker and author Harold Dean Trulear spoke about ways churches can help women who are incarcerated and their families who have been affected. The goal was to inspire, empower and equip church leaders to build relationships of healing, redemption, and reconciliation in families and communities impacted by crime and mass incarceration.
Re-entry is the process where ex-offenders transition from prison to life outside bars. Women at the Well provides reentry teams for women who ask for it. Reentry teams help women with basic issues of life back in their communities: housing, employment, finances, clothes, transportation and long-range issues like education, addiction treatment, health care and life skills needed to succeed in the community.
Women at the Well’s faith-based reentry teams are organized by Deacon Brenda Hobson. They are made of five to seven trained volunteers from one or more congregations in an area where an ex-offender settles. The team members focus on mentorship, accountability, goal setting, and faith formation. The team supports the women while also holding her accountable for her actions.
The teams work with one woman for up to year, so Women at the Well are in constant need of new reentry teams or existing teams who are ready to sign on to a new yearlong commitment, said Hobson on Sunday.
Haller recited a sonnet about representing the transformative power of Women at the Well.
“Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
And you the bell. As you ring,
What batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
Say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.”
Haller’s reflection hit close to the home as many of Women at the Well’s congregants wrote down their thoughts of what the ministry means to them and how it has helped empower, heal and provide a safe place to them.
“I can’t imagine ICIW without WATW – it’s the only place that I truly feel peace here.”
“Well I have never had someone to show me how love feels. And now I know what love really feels like.”
“It’s peace and serenity in the middle of chaos. I feel relief from everything when I come to Women at the Well. Pastor Lee is wonderful.”
“I am thankful for the way that Women at the Well has helped me empower myself!”
“I am thankful that Women at the Well helped me find my voice. I was afraid to share my faith. I was afraid of how people would judge me. Women at the Well has given me confidence in my faith during this hard time, helped me grow and has given me a place I feel welcome – even in prison.”
“I really am grateful to be here, sober, and being able to come to a place and sit with all these different, beautiful people and be grateful for being alive and well.”
How You Can Help
Women at the Well receives no government funding. Support for the church and its resources comes from the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, local congregations, and other interested groups and parties.
People can help support Women at the Well in a number of ways.
- Become a Reentry Team member. Contact Hobson for more information at 515-313-6916 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contribute to Women at the Well directly online at https://form.jotform.com/63324744414150 .
- Volunteer to work with the women in the prison. Contact Pastor Schott at 515-360-3977 or email@example.com.
- Work for prison reform, human sentencing and restorative justice principles.
- Visit a worship service at Women at the Well on Thursdays at 7 pm. Advanced permission is required. Contact Dan Schott at 515-822-4599 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Pray for Pastor Schott, volunteers and the women in the prison.
For more information on Women at the Well, visit www.womenatthewellumc.org