Stepping Stones – Becoming Beloved Community Grant Recipient
By the Rev. Peggy Bryan
Stepping Stones is pioneering work in building relationships with the incarcerated through worship, counseling and education, and offering radical “All are Welcome” hospitality and support upon release. This is our pandemic story.
In mid-March 2020, Stepping Stones was convening Sunday mornings for worship at a Baptist church, followed by hosting afternoon worship in the jail; ordering and delivering spiritual and vocational materials for detainees; facilitating Bible studies and tutoring groups in dorms; making pastoral visits to men and women in and out of custody; delivering provisions to unhoused members; staying connected with state prisoners; prepping for legislative advocacy meetings….keeping an eye on this strange coronavirus. On March 17, the county of Santa Clara issued a shelter-in-place order. Everything closed. No entry to jail. No gatherings. Stay home. Full stop.
We regrouped. We Zoomed. Services grew by 30% as people logged on who never attended. Two phone lines were set up for incarcerated members whom we patched through on Zoom, allowing them to join as one of the audio squares. Materials were mailed weekly to key detainee contacts who in turn led worship. “As good as ever!” was enthusiastically reported! Social justice pivoted from advocating institutional reform to expediting compassionate release. Get everyone out! Hundreds of jail detainees and prison inmates were released. Our hands were full in creating and dropping off “survival kits” of blankets, toiletries, clothes, masks, food and water for those released to homelessness. Our budding prison anti-racism groups ceased as 99% of our “ambassadors” (those transferred from jail to prison) contracted COVID-19. Instead of ordering books, we deployed food packages via state vendors as meals were severely truncated and our custodial members were frightened and hungry. Study groups are just now regaining traction.
The jail reopened this summer, so classes and pastoral visits have resumed. Worship teams returned mid-September. The Department of Corrections recently issued tablets to detainees, creating new options of access to explore. We continue to hold Sunday services on Zoom as we wait out the Delta variant surge. Implementing hybrid worship at our urban satellite site is the next adventure. What we’ve learned: Trust system-impacted members to take leadership roles — they are more than capable, actually “better than ever!” Embrace technology; it penetrates barriers and erases boundaries including those of your imagination. Pray without ceasing — God is a mastermind of creativity and really loves to help!
The Rev. Peggy Bryan, 11 years ordained, is pastoral associate of outreach at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Saratoga, California, in the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, and the founder of Stepping Stones, a ministry to those incarcerated, in reentry and recovery. Stepping stones received an Impact Grant in the 2021 Becoming Beloved Community grant cycle.