A lot of people ask me how things are going in our 33rd Street Jail Campus, and I enjoy sharing what church looks like on “the inside”. Most people know that we have two church services each Sunday inside the Orange County Jail—one in the men’s facility and one in the women’s facility. What most people may not know is that our entrance each Sunday is never guaranteed.
There are at least a dozen things that can happen between the North Perimeter Security Gate and the doors into our respective service locations that can prevent us from bringing the church into the jail rooms that day.
It makes me think of the days when Summit services were completely dependent upon the hands of the people who were also showing up to worship. When I first found my way into a Summit Waterford service five years ago, I had no idea that men, women, and kids had been in the building for hours making everything from the sound in the Sanctuary to the Splenda packets at the coffee bar ready for my arrival. I have heard incredible stories about Summit services in school cafeterias and re-purposed cinema cafes that required an all-hands-on-deck approach. I can only imagine the flexibility and patience that was required each and every week!
This is similar to how things work in 33rd, and how things went on the women’s side of the jail on Easter Sunday. When our team met at the jail at the same time we always do, and went through security the same way we always do, we expected to have a normal Easter Sunday. It wasn’t until we reached the door of the dorm where we serve that we reached an obstacle. The women’s dorm had been in shakedown (a thorough search of the dorm area and all property) just before we walked in, which meant that no one or no thing was going in or out of the dorm for several hours. When the on-duty officer informed us that we would not be having a service that day, our spirits fell. It was Easter Sunday! Didn’t she know that?
What happened next, however, was beautiful. We weren’t ready to leave, but we also wanted to respect the officers and their responsibilities. So, our little team of three stood outside of the dorm walls and just prayed. We prayed for the women in jail, the guards, and the officers—that they would feel Christ’s love that day and somehow, even without a formal church service, be able to worship the Risen Christ and know his presence. We prayed for their families, their cases, the attorneys and judges and juries who decide their fates, and for jail administration and all of the men and women who make really tough decisions every day.
If I am being honest, I was really hoping that by the time we opened our eyes, the circumstances would change and the officer would let us proceed with church. That didn’t happen, but as we left the jail that day, my heart felt full. There are so many times when I think I have everything under control, but that is just an illusion. The truth is that God is in control, always, and even when our plans go awry, he has something even better up his majestic sleeve.
The next Sunday, our team went back to the jail and was able to carry out “Easter Sunday: Take Two” and it was an amazing service. And, as Lake Mary Campus Minister O.J. Aldrich would put it, shouldn’t every Sunday be Easter Sunday?
Lindsey Coates is the 33rd Street Ministry Coordinator for Summit Church. She'd love to hear from you if you have any questions for her about how to get involved with our 33rd Street Campus. You can email Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.