The Certificate in Theological Studies at Metro State Prison for Women
, now in its second year, is a collaborative effort between the chaplain’s office and a consortium of the four major Protestant seminaries and schools of theology in the Atlanta region:
- McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University
- Interdenominational Theological Center
- Columbia Theological Seminary
- Candler School of Theology at Emory University
Each of these schools provides instruction from faculty on a volunteer basis and graduate students for a minimal stipend.
The year-long program, beginning in January, is designed to offer inmates academic instruction and to train them to serve as lay religious leaders both in prison and after their release. Inmates apply to participate and hold themselves accountable to a course of study that includes foundations courses in Bible and theology and a range of electives. Electives reinforce material learned in foundations courses as well as deepen biblical and theological knowledge through various topics of particular interest to the women, such as Biblical Perspectives on Criminal Justice, Women’s Perspectives on the Bible,
and Doing Theology from Prison with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Additionally, the women produce a final project integrating the material learned throughout the year into their lives at the prison. The first class of women worked hard on such creative and interactive projects as preparing a sermon (based on a biblical exegesis elective) that will be preached at the prison worship service, writing a devotional book for fellow inmates, and preparing a workshop on practices of restorative justice.
One woman in the program shared this: "I’ve come to see that unquestioned embedded theology is almost like a bondage or prison – no freedom to form new ideas. As I allow myself to open up, I am free.” Another shared, “The major realization I’ve come to over the past few months is that it is normal to question…Only in studying the theological questions and writings of others have I grown, not only to understand the Bible more, but, to appreciate it in a much greater depth…Psalm 42:1 has long been a favorite Scripture. Now I can truthfully say as David did, ‘As a deer pants after streams of water so my soul longs after you, O God.’ My particular denominational roots are no longer so firmly embedded. My love for God, however, has only been strengthened.”
In short, the program seeks to help incarcerated women think well for themselves and of themselves, all in a compassionate context of faith.
The program relies on donations. $200 supplies a woman with a study bible, scriptural and theological texts that she keeps for future reference, basic supplies not available to the women in prison (such as notebooks, pens and folders), and a graduation celebration at the end of the year. Contact Dr. Jenny McBride
Dr. McBride shared these thoughts in her graduation remarks this spring:It takes courage and strength to examine the Bible and theological traditions critically, to ask hard questions, and to learn to live with the questions themselves, to probe and gain some answers through a faith seeking understanding. Your instructors have given you tools to engage scripture, theology, and other religious traditions and have introduced yu to a braod range of theological conversations; at the same time I can confidently say that we have learned much from you, we have been transformed hearing you add your voice to these theological discussions, hearing your stories and your perspective on scripture. I personally want to thank you for the ways that you have given yourselves to this work and for allowing me to walk with you along the way. I have been strengthened in my faith - my life has been enhanced- by sharing this experience with you.