Deacon Steve Marks has been serving incarcerated individuals for three decades and he’s inviting members of the faithful to join him in what he calls a rewarding ministry and an opportunity to evangelize.
He and five volunteers are currently providing 10 communion services a week for men and women incarcerated in the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections and the Jefferson County Hall of Justice.
“It’s rewarding. It’s a corporal work of mercy and it’s a very real opportunity for evangelization,” said Deacon Marks in a recent interview.
A shortage of volunteers has also made it challenging, he said. But it’s a ministry that’s needed.
“We’re all sinners and it’s really uplifting when we can discuss the church, the forgiveness of sin and everything that comes with our faith with those that are incarcerated,” said Deacon Marks who serves at St. Albert the Great Church. “There are lots of really good, faithful souls that we encounter in there.”
A few years ago, he was assisted by 18 extraordinary ministers of holy communion, but the pandemic and the ministers’ personal challenges have caused that number to dwindle.
It would be helpful to gain at least 12 new ministers, he said. Currently, there are only two women, including Ursuline Sister of Louisville Carol Curtis, ministering to female inmates.
Communion ministers who would like to serve the jail population must do two things:
- Be trained by the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Family Ministries Office. This training includes some practical information on how to interact with jail officers and how to “conduct” oneself inside detention centers, said Deacon Marks.
- Attend an orientation process provided by the jails that include filling out an application and undergoing a criminal background check and fingerprinting. Ministers will be issued a jail identification card.
For Sister Curtis, the effort is worth it to take part in the rewarding ministry.
“It’s a beautiful opportunity to be with women and support them at a very difficult time,” she said in a recent interview.
Sister Curtis noted that jail ministry is not a “drop-in” ministry. Volunteers must prayerfully discern if it’s right for them. Those involved need to have a “clear sense of why you’re there, trusting in God that you’re doing what he wants you to do,” she said. “The invitation is from Christ.”
The women she encounters, regardless if they are Catholic or not, are very grateful to come to a church service, Sister Curtis noted, adding that due to the pandemic there are fewer services of other religious denominations.
The women often ask why she chooses to visit them, she said. She tells them that spiritual communion with the church continues though they are separated by jail walls.
“We’re not just bringing Christ to them in the Eucharist. We’re visiting Christ in these women,” said Sister Curtis.
Bob Singleton, a member of St. Patrick Church, said he’s glad he decided to minister in the jail and accompany men who are incarcerated. During the communion service, inmates read from Scripture and, following a homily or reflection, they are invited to share their thoughts, said Singleton.
“We have groups of inmates who want to talk about God. You can tell they’ve been reading their Bibles. We have a number of them who do Bible study. That’s rewarding,” he said.
Singleton said though it can be “uncomfortable” when the jail doors close behind you, “It’s not scary” and “it’s rare that anyone is disruptive.” The men he ministers to are just grateful, he said.
To learn more about jail ministry or how to become a minister, contact Deacon Steve Marks at 964-6966 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.