100 Churches for Stephen’s Table

Stephen's Table continued its campaign Saturday morning at Wesley Chapel, calling for 100 churches to change the face of justice in Chattanooga. The project is establishing a large network of churches, organizations to systematically reach out to prisoners and assist them in making decisions that improve their incarceration experience and help to reduce failures during the reentry process.

Chattanooga, TN, September 15, 2009 --(PR.com)-- Stephen's Table (StephensTable.net) continued its campaign Saturday morning at Wesley Chapel, calling for 100 churches to change the face of justice in Chattanooga. “Nothing serious happens in large measure,” says Tim Dempsey of Chattanooga Endeavors, the sponsoring agency of Stephen’s Table. “If we’re looking for meaningful ministry, we need to get personal with the people we are serving.”

The sheer number of Tennessee prisoners, however – 1 in 98 according to a recent Pew study – makes it difficult to achieve this personal touch and impact the system at the same time.

Prison populations began to soar “with the incarceration-first policies of the 1980’s,” says Dempsey. “Those policies resulted in the largest experiment in mass incapacitation the world has ever know.” With just 5 percent of the world’s population, in fact, the United States is now home to 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. “It is a stunning contracts given our legacy of liberty in America.”

Stephen’s Table provides the personal touch needed to be effective on a scale that is large enough to impact the system. With committees of trained volunteers at 100 churches operating with one mission, organizers believe they will have the capacity to reach out to everyone from Chattanooga serving terms in state and federal prisons. “One agency can’t do it effectively,” says Calvin Figgures, Project Coordinator. “It would cost too much and they would be forced to trim services to meet the numbers.” But he explains, “one agency could coordinate a lot of small, individual efforts that collectively meet the numbers and retain the type of personal touch we know is needed.”

Stephen’s Table is different from existing church-based mentoring efforts in the state not only because of the scale it is seeking; it is different also because the point of engagement is immediately after sentencing (instead of right before release). “Sponsoring churches will become a support system for participants all the way through their prison term,” says Figgures. “We want to help them make decisions that improve their incarceration experience as well as assist them when they come home.” This is just the sort of insight that stands out about the initiative: “You know the saying, ‘you find out who your real friends are when you go to prison,’ Dempsey inquires of the group at Wesley Chapel. “Well, we want to be one of those real friends…so when negative forces are pressing in on people that have just been released from prison, we will be there like a beacon calling them home.”

“Most of the people I knew in prison were churchgoers before they got locked up,” exclaims a guest at Wesley Chapel. “But these churches were nowhere to be found in prison? It felt like they had just abandoned us to the Department of Corrections.” “I like this project because it makes a way for churches to be involved in the lives of their members who happen to be in prison.”

Richard Bennett, Executive Director of A Better Tomorrow, is partnering with Stephen’s Table to work with the children of prisoners participating in this initiative. Having spiritually adopted a young man who was released from prison a year ago, Bennett knows first hand about the benefits of mentoring. “He’s doing great!” Bennett says proudly of his godson. “But what breaks my heart is that there are so many more I want to help and I can’t because there just isn’t enough time.”

There will be a Kick-off Event for Stephen’s Table with Darryl Smith, National Director of Campus Crusade for Christ’s Student Ventures

October 17, 2009
9:00 a.m. – Noon
New Covenant Fellowship

For more information about Stephen’s Table or the Kick-off Event, contact
Tim Dempsey

Tim Dempsey