A Wisconsin church has come up with an intriguing way to allow sex offenders to participate in worship. The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Madison, Wisconsin, is holding adult-only services on Thursday evenings so that offenders can participate in church without violating parole.
The church’s prison ministry project started the bi-weekly church services on Feb. 23. to help accommodate this population. By not including children in the worship events, these individuals are able to be a part of the church community without incident. According to church leader Rev. Jerry Hancock, it was a parole officer who originally brought the idea to First Congregational last year as a way to include these individuals.
Jim Gerndt, a local psychologist, says that the service’s organization is helpful to sex offenders who are working to recover.
“For someone who is actively provoked by sexual stimuli, such as being around male or female minors, part of their rehabilitation is to alter their sexual arousal patterns and to completely avoid stimuli or to limit exposure to it,” Gerndt explained.
Hancock was adement in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, that the event is not therapeutic and that it is not necessarily a “sex-offender service.” Rather, it is an opportunity for this population to experience the same worship opportunities that others in the community have.
“It’s not designed to be therapeutic. It’s not a support group,” Hancock also explained. “We are using the same text, the same order of worship and the same sermon topic that was used the previous Sunday.”
First Congregational has purportedly been careful regarding how much the program has been advertised, out of fear that protesters opposed to the efforts might be attracted to the church. Instead, leaders have relied on relationships with other houses of worship to spread the word.
“We truly want to be a church where everyone is welcome,” parishioner Susan Heneman explained. “We have to live this out, not just say it on paper.”
The church lists its prison ministry programs under a section called “social justice” on its web site and also offers support services for gays and lesbians.