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Extending a Welcome

Hagar’s Community Church is an inclusive worshipping community for the incarcerated individuals of the Washington Correction Center for Women
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Rev. Layne Brubaker, ThM '10, MDiv '09

In many ways, Hagar’s Community Church is just like so many others. Congregants gather for weekly services. They minister to one another. They walk alongside each other throughout their journeys. But in a lot of ways, it’s also very different. Situated within the walls of the Washington Correction Center for Women (WCCW), the church is made up of a mostly transient population of incarcerated individuals: some are there for a few months, and some are there for life.

The number one thing to know about Hagar’s? Leave your judgments and preconceived notions behind. “People have a lot of ideas about incarcerated folks — that they’re dangerous or need to be overly mothered — and neither of those are accurate,” says founding pastor Reverend Layne Brubaker, ThM ’10, MDiv ’09. “People who are incarcerated are just like us.” At Hagar’s Community Church, anyone at WCCW is welcome, not just to attend but also to lead. Congregants can join the Inside Leadership Team, which decides how worship will look and what programs the church will offer. “We don’t go in and say, this is how you should be,” says Brubaker. “We build this congregation for and by incarcerated individuals to be a place where they are known, welcomed, and hear they’re loved. It’s a place for trust and vulnerability in an environment where that’s not often found.”

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Rev. Riley Pickett, MDiv '20

This commitment recently manifested in the publication of a daily Lenten devotional that included a piece of art or poem created by someone inside the prison alongside each entry. “We recorded audio versions of it for a podcast, and we had so many people listening and reading along across the country,” says Reverend Riley Pickett, MDiv '20, the church’s re-entry pastor. “It was so wonderful and uplifting to experience Lent through their perspective that we’re working on an Advent devotional right now.”

Indeed, Hagar’s does not exist solely within the vacuum of the prison, and maintaining relationships with church members as they transition back into the community is also important. Pickett calls congregants when they are released (sometimes that same day) to provide spiritual and emotional support, and also connect them with helpful resources. She’s developed meaningful relationships with congregants that have lasted months and beyond, and recently partnered with Underground Ministries, a local organization in Washington that specializes in re-entry fellowship.

“There is so much misunderstanding around incarcerated individuals, but the truth is that they are lovely, beautiful people that make your life fuller to know,” Pickett says. “We are not bringing Jesus to prison. He is fully present there and some of the most profound Christians I have ever encountered are in that prison. We’re not there to fix people or save people, or transform their life. We’re ministering to each other.”

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