Small church helps ex-offenders return to society

Crossroads United Methodist Church in Compton, California, has about 100 members, with 50 active. The average age of the mostly African-American church is 75-years-old.

Compton, California, with a population of close to 1 million, is predominately Hispanic and African American. More than 25 percent are living in poverty, twice as much as the national average.

This community is incredibly impacted by mass incarceration because here nearly 75 percent of arrests are male and 40 percent are African American.

The Rev. Adrienne Zackery looks at those numbers and sees a call from God.

“We are a small church but mighty in passion,” she said as she began a workshop here at the 2018 National Prison Summit on how expungement clinics can re-energize mission.

“Our theological foundation is Matthew 25:35-40 … ‘I was in prison and you visited me.’ We are called to be light and salt for those who are the least,” she said.

After attending the 2014 National Prayer Summit held in Dallas, Zackery came home and told Karen A. Henry, an attorney in her congregation, that she wanted to start holding expungement clinics. These clinics help former incarcerated people seal arrest records so they can find employment and housing.

The Rev. Adrienne Zackery, pastor of Crossroads United Methodist Church in Compton, Calif., says expungement clinics have re-energized her church. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS. 
The Rev. Adrienne Zackery, pastor of Crossroads United Methodist Church in Compton, Calif., says expungement clinics have re-energized her church. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS.

Henry, who is a corporate attorney, didn’t know anything about criminal law. She had no idea how to start, but she didn’t say no to her pastor.

Together Zackery and Henry set out to hold the first clinic in 2015. This November they will hold their sixth. They learned a lot along the way.

The first clinic they held was “on the hottest day of the year,” Zackery said, and over 100 people showed up.

“We had to go buy an air-conditioner,” Zackery said.

Since that first experience they know to limit how many people they can help in a day.

“Think through what you want to do,” Henry said. “We wanted people to walk away with the papers they needed to take to the courthouse.”

Henry said a handful of committed people — four to five— is all that is needed. The key to success is getting buy-in from the congregation, she said.

As she walked workshop participants through the process Crossroads used, she cautioned that all the advice she was giving was based on Compton and they would need to do their own research in their hometowns.

Her step-by-step advice includes: inventory your expertise, find members of the congregation who could be a resource, select good partners and leverage synergies.

The 2014 National Prison Summit planted a seed, Zackery said.

“Who would have thought that three years later we would be in Nashville, Tennessee, sharing very concrete evidence of what it means to go beyond the local church,” she asked.

Zackery said any church can do the same thing. And she adds, every church needs to take responsibility for ex-offenders coming back into their neighborhoods.

“In my ‘seasoned’ congregation it gives a mother who can’t walk a chance to sit at a table and do registration. It gives an older gentleman an opportunity to help young men by offering to pray with them.

“Even though there might be barriers, everyone in the congregation is able to do something,” Zackery said. “Jesus is the answer.”

Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

Sign up for our newsletter!

umnews-subscriptions
Local Church
While many United Methodist churches have seen giving drop since the COVID-19 pandemic suspended in-person worship, they also report resilience in the crisis. Some churches even report an increase in giving to go along alongside an increase in attendance through online worship. Photos: church by Steven Kyle Adair, clouds by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications; coins by Kevin Schneider, Pixabay; illustration by Laurens Glass, UM News.

Local churches show resilience in crisis

Three months into pandemic-related restrictions, many U.S. United Methodist churches are more optimistic about their finances and see hope for the “new normal.”
Local Church
Elizabeth Knotts collects the offering at New Hope Valley United Methodist Church in Valley Furnace, W.Va., in 2015. Churches are dealing with tight finances in this time of suspended worship and shuttered businesses because of COVID-19. Still, giving continues. File photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Pandemic presents challenge to church giving

Churches still must collect an offering even when social distancing means they can’t pass the plate. But church leaders also want to be sensitive to the faithful’s own economic needs.
Local Church
The Rev. Lea Matthews (left), associate pastor of St. Paul & St. Andrew United Methodist Church in New York City, offered a “Message for All Ages” about worry in a recent YouTube video, along with her daughter Nora. Churches are using creative ways to connect with and reassure children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Video image courtesy of St. Paul & St. Andrew United Methodist Church.

Helping children during the COVID-19 crisis

Sheltering in place is confusing for children accustomed to daily contact with friends and teachers. Church leaders offer advice on how to help them cope.