A SNAPSHOT OF THE
KAIROS PRISON MINISTRY
Kairos is an ecumenical Christian ministry whose programs are designed to be presented in state and federal men’s and women’s correctional institutions in the U.S. with adaptations for other countries and languages. This ministry is governed by the national board of Kairos Prison Ministry, Inc. with headquarters in Winter Park, Florida. The ministry is conducted, in cooperation with the chaplains of correctional institutions, by teams of laity and clergy who are selected, trained and certified by area governing bodies of Kairos
Kairos Prison Ministry is a ministry by persons drawn from a broad denominational range of churches. Kairos volunteers have experience in renewal movements within their churches which focus on small group dynamics, share and prayer groups, personal witness and vulnerability in Christian community. It is a continuing ministry. The primary objective of the 3-day short course is to prepare selected residents for life in an ongoing Christian community.
Kairos Prison Ministry grew out of early attempts to launch movements in prisons similar to the three-day movements in the sacramental churches of the free-world. The ministry of Kairos was preceded by an ecumenical Cursillo movement in Union Correctional Institution, a maximum security institution at Raiford, Florida, in 1976.
From that experience a model was developed which could be presented in any prison without changing the content or format. It was aimed specifically at one environment: that of correctional institutions. It was called Kairos."
There are two Greek words for time. One of them, with which we are all familiar, is "kronos," meaning linear time ... hours, days, weeks, etc. The other is "kairos," used in the sense of a time set by God for a particular occurrence. "KAIROS" was found to be a word of very special significance in the environment of the correctional institution where the word "time" carries so many special connotations.
THE PURPOSE OF KAIROS
The purpose of Kairos is to establish strong Christian communities among the populations of correctional institutions. This is done through the impact of small, 3-to-5 person share and prayer groups of leaders resident in the institutions. These groups are to meet weekly to share their lives on a deep spiritual level and to pray for one another, for other residents and staff in the institutions.
Kairos is a ministry of the church ... a ministry of the apostles whom Jesus, the Christ, has called into community and sent forth into the environment of the correctional institution. Kairos has been called the best example of the early church in existence today.
The objective of Kairos is to impact the correctional environment through the action of the leaders, as apostles of Jesus Christ, in all areas of human activity in the pnson.
THE ESSENCE OF KAIROS
Through a systematic, structured program, the residents of correctional institutions are given the opportunity to experience a religious renewal and to accept Gods call to a life of Christian witness and service to one another during their stay in the institution and beyond.
The Kairos strategy is to identify leaders from the key environments of the institution, leaders who have the greatest potential to impact their environments with the message of Christs love. These leaders are then invited to attend a 3-Day Short Course in Christianity where they are introduced to the Kairos community.
Since this ministry began Ohio, hundreds of residents have participated In the continuing ministry of Kairos. A statement heard over and over again from residents attempting to describe the ministry of the 3-day short course has been this, or a variation of it: "It wasnt the words that got to me. Ive heard words like these often in my life. It was the acting out of them. The love."
Many changes have been made, and continue to be made, in the methods for delivering that love. Some changes were dictated by the environment in which the ministry operates, others by the fact that Kairos is an ecumenical ministry. There is an orderly method for effecting changes in this manual and in its use, and the editorial committee of the National Board of Directors constantly reviews recommended changes as the ministry evolves and prisons change.
Central to every change inaugurated has been Jesus "new" commandment. "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples." John 13:34-35.
Stability and predictability are very important to the prison environment and to the security staff who are our hosts. For that reason, it Is important that changes be considered and accepted by the national leadership and incorporated into the protocal of the manual in an orderly way before application in the community. In like manner, it is extremely important for all branches of Kairos to follow the guidelines set forth by Kairos manuals.
As stated, the purpose of Kairos is to establish strong Christian communities among the populations of correctional institutions. This is done through the impact of small, 3-to-5 person, share and prayer groups of residents in the institutions. These groups meet weekly to share their lives on a deep spiritual level, to pray for one another and for other residents and staff.
The initial impetus for the formation of these groups arises from the presentation of a 3-Day Kairos Short Course in Christianity which is repeated every six months. It is typically offered by an ecumenical team of about 55 persons for a group of 42 residents.
Team members are required to have experienced a similar weekend and complete the requirements of team formation. Each team member experiences the power of unconditional love in a small Christian community committed to regular personal sharing. They know the effect unconditional love has in our lives and they, through thoughtful and prayerful preparation, are able to apply It to others.
The Kairos method is based on a three-phase program consisting of the Preparation phase, the Introductory Short Course and the Kairos Community phase.
The ideal Kairos recruits are those residents who presently are or who can become natural leaders in the key environments of the institution. This requires careful selection and recruiting. They can become Christs agents for change in the different areas of the institutional life and ultimately can bring about change in the attitude and quality of life in the entire institution.
If Kairos is to impact the environments of correctional institutions, we need leaders, not followers, to attend the weekends. Those who gather daily in the chapels of correctional institutions may be doing good work, but unfortunately they too often have little or no impact on the rest of the population out in the compound. The "chapel crowd" are often perceived as "hiding from the harsh realities of prison life." There are, of course, exceptions ... beautiful, vibrant, committed Christians walking deep walks with our Lord. Most of them, are perceived as "weak, unable to answer their own needs." Their witness in the prison environment Is often counterproductive. It is wiser to start elsewhere with resident selection.
We explain to chaplains and wardens the compelling necessity for carefully planned environmental penetration in candidate selection. Chaplains, with the assistance of the warden, security chief, or their staff, are asked to isolate the six or eight environments within their institution [work areas, recreational areas or residential areas] which have the greatest impact on the largest percentage of the population. They are then asked to identify the six or eight leaders from each area who have the greatest impact on attitudes of the residents either living in or passing through those environments. These are sought out as participants.
Few, if any, of those chosen will be participating in any activity of the chapel program. Some will be negative leaders, that is leaders in gambling, drugs, gangs or extortion-rings. Many will never even have opened a Bible, yet they have the potential to be powerful instruments in building Christian community in the institution.
Wherever this participant selection process is practiced, it works; it is effective and dramatic. Having experienced a change of heart, these resident leaders touch others who are totally beyond the reach of the chaplain.
An eight-week team formation period is required for each Kairos short course. Its primary purpose is to bring team members to love each other, to build a Christian community, immediately identifiable as a community of Christs disciples. Consequently, the team formation period is highly structured, with a defined agenda for each meeting.
The team also learns about working in a prison environment, rules of the institution, local taboos and problems to be addressed.
Team formation meetings provide an environment prompting team members to practice vulnerability, one-on-one prayer and personal ministry.
Eight weeks of team formation mold the team into a community recognizable as the body of Christ.
Specific tasks pertaining to the program are defined and explained during team formation.
THE INTRODUCTORY KAIROS WEEKEND
The Kairos weekend consists of the presentation of a 3-Day Short Course in Christianity for the selected residents. It is conducted in the institution by an ecumenical team of laity and clergy in cooperation with the chaplain of the institution.
This short course is designed specifically to be presented to the unchurched, to the isolated, the unloving and the unloved. Most residents of penal institutions share a common history of early trauma in their lives. This normally stems from an abusive family situation teaching them to trust no one. They live by an unspoken, often unrecognized motto, "Dont Trust, Dont Talk, Dont Feel." The pain of this isolation often leads them into substance abuse or gang activities which lead to prison.
The job of Kairos on the introductory weekend is to encourage the residents to remove their masks so that the team can pour agape on the real person rather than on the person they pretend to be. We create a safe environment for them to begin to show themselves and learn what life can be like in a loving, caring community. If they can not show themselves, they can only learn what agape feels like showered on their mask. This confirms to them the validity of their isolation. They must break through their own walls. This is serious business carried on in a serious environment. Carefully orchestrated light moments further encourage the residents to disarm defenses and help tear down the walls.
Each speaker is encouraged to be as vulnerable as possible to the residents In his/her talk. All team members are encouraged to become vulnerable to the candidates, be It through talk or prayer, in the table family or during breaks, in groups or one-on-one. This is key to helping the participants open themselves to healing, to building trust.
In each talk, after the first talk on Friday morning, speakers share personal experiences of the ways in which support, love, encouragement and prayer from other members of his/her share and prayer group has brought healing. The attraction of Christian community is made abundantly clear by one speaker after another.
Because of problems regarding trust, each speaker (after the first one on Friday morning) is urged to discuss trust during his/her personal sharing. Each deals with the fact that, though trust may be rare in the world, being Christians can change that. One Christian should be able to trust another Christian. The speaker tells them, In one way or another, that "the Christ in me can trust the Christ in you." Their past experience with Christians, unfortunately, may have led them to believe otherwise.
The participants basic fear and prejudice against forming such a close relationship in the prison is disarmed and alleviated. The entire Sunday schedule Is built around practicing actual community building. They learn first hand how to form the groups they have been hearing about over the past two days.
There are opportunities during the short course for the community to offer one-line thanksgivings. This time helps develop the communitys spirituality. It allows participants and team alike to verbalize their gratitude, to attempt to articulate their joy as they stand in Gods presence watching miracles.., miracles in themselves and those around them.
Care is used during one-line thanksgivings to encourage the participants to begin verbalizing. The team normally sets the model with very simple thanksgivings. Colorful and liturgical flourishes can discourage the participants from being heard. As soon as the first participants begin to offer thanksgivings, team members constrain themselves and listen.
Three team members and six residents at each table are the basis to form a trusting family. Table families are carefully chosen to be ethnically diverse. This family becomes comfortable enough with one another over the course of the weekend to become vulnerable to one another. On the final day, they are led into sharing their personal histories in an exercise called "lifelines" and thereby learn they have much more in common than they had ever imagined. They begin to feel like family.
FAMILY CHAPEL VISITS
Kairos sets aside time during the weekend for newly formed family groups to visit the chapel for prayer. These prayer visits are structured to encourage each participant to pray and give thanks for each member of this family. This may be the first time many have been led to pray for anyone other than themselves. It is a memorable experience. For many, it digs down deep into a personal history long forgotten, getting in touch with feelings left for dead years before.
Other large group prayer experiences are offered in the opportunity for one-line thanksgivings to God and one-line prayers for others.
THE KAIROS COMMUNITY
Following the short course, participants are introduced to an on-going program which fosters perseverance and continuing Christian growth through community involvement. The program may vary, depending on the resources of the Kairos support community in the area. If resources are available, Kairos may present Kairos Journey. Otherwise, the Kairos community program consists of the following elements:
THE INSTRUCTIONAL REUNION
As soon after the completion of a 3-Day Kairos Short Course as possible a small volunteer team gathers the resident participants for an Instructional Reunion, an extended, day-long practical introduction to the grouping experience. Small group dynamics are taught. Vulnerability is encouraged. Giving and receiving agape is practiced one-on-one. This prepares them for a lifetime commitment to weekly grouping with its attendant vulnerability, accountability and rule of confidentiality.
The peer pressure to "laugh off what was experienced in Kairos is enormous. So are the temptations to return to the few available sins of the flesh in which the participant might have been indulging. Those who do fall back into bad habits find that the judgmentalism in prison is swift and heavy. It is almost impossible for a "new" Christian to handle the condemnation which can result from actions which he or she might not even see as "sinful."
Residents who suffer such experiences and decide to abandon their new-found faith are in danger of having been "vaccinated" against ever having a viable personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Kairos feels strongly that the Instructional Reunion should take place within two weeks of the short course in order to offer continuing support for the participant.
SHARE AND PRAYER GROUPS
Small groups of residents continue to meet weekly for one hour to share their spiritual life and growth. These regular meetings, enabled by the chaplaincy, are structured to foster growth in spirituality, discovery and action through which the Christian community grows. Kairos functions to enable these share and prayer groups.
Kairos provides grouping cards, explains the format of the grouping experience and the details of each step in the share and prayer time. Members of the group are asked to share their lives during the past week In terms of their spirituality, their discoveries as they have studied the word of God, and their Christian action in the compound and beyond. They pray for each other and for absent members of the group.
The grouping card provided by Kairos emphasizes spiritual growth, regular study habits and Christian action. It attempts to avoid liturgical words and phrases which are unknown to many residents who have no previous church background.
Quite often Kairos team members serve, at the Chaplains request, as volunteers to open an area in the institution where residents are permitted to gather and group for one hour each week.
KAIROS MONTHLY REUNION
The Kairos monthly Reunion is a gathering of the institutions resident Prayer and Share Groups with Kairos volunteers for the building up and support of the residents Christian community. It is open to all residents of the institution who have attended a Kairos short course and may be open to their guests, if the institution allows.
A Reunion usually lasts from two to three hours and is held at the same date and time each month. Here residents and free-world community worship, share in small groups, hear witness talks, hear a prepared talk by someone from the Kairos advisory council, sing together and pray together.
The Kairos advisory council speaker and his/her topic are chosen by the advisory council to refresh the residents memories about one of the talks or meditations from the 3-day short course.
The Reunion is followed by a social time during which residents and outside visitors may visit and share individually. It is a time of continuing affirmation by members of the ministry for the residents. Ministry at the Reunions becomes, increasingly, a two-way street with outside persons being ministered to by residents as well as residents being ministered to by them.
The "social time" affords an occasion for healing to take place in the lives of everyone in the community and is one of the more powerful dynamics, unstructured though it is, in the Kairos ministry.
Volunteers working Kairos teams commit to attend the Kairos monthly reunions for 12 months following the weekend they work.
2-DAY RESIDENTS RETREATS
Periodic 2-day retreats are conducted to foster continuous renewal and growth of the residents of the institution who have attended Kairos short courses. These 2-day retreats are conducted by a small team of Kairos volunteers and are scheduled approximately three months following each Kairos short course.
The Retreat is open to all residents who have experienced a Kairos weekend. The Kairos team for the retreats includes a number of facilitators sufficient to provide one team member for each six residents in addition to the retreat master and a small group of set-up workers.
The 2-Day Residents Retreat is one of the most powerful experiences of Kairos. As with all Kairos events, the outside team experiences the "two-way street" of true ministry.
The one-on-one share and prayer topics assigned allow opportunity for the residents to become vulnerable to another resident in a "safe," non-threatening environment. For most, it is the first time since their incarceration that they have risked vulnerability with another person. For some, it will be the first time since early childhood that they have dared appear "weak" by becoming vulnerable. For all, the retreats become models for sharing in the residents Share and Prayer Groups.
Thus, the ultimate purpose of the Kairos ministry is to permeate the environment of correctional institutions with Christian communities. This is done through the apostolic action of carefully chosen resident leaders whose impact on their environment is made effective by their participation in Share and Prayer Groups.
These lay apostles, using share and prayer groups as a method of perseverance, meet, share and plan their apostolic work together and with other groups (Kairos Monthly Reunions). They implement a strategy of seeking out other resident leaders, and by example, they convict and convince others to become lay apostles and link new apostles together (via share and prayer groups, Monthly Kairos Reunions and 2-Day Resident Retreats) with themselves as they continually woo people in their environments to Christian community.
If local resources are available, presentation of The Kairos Journey is encouraged. The built-in structure and discipline of this program have proven to be most effective as a vehicle for spiritual growth for the Kairos community.
The local Kairos community outside provides a team of facilitators and a presenter to come In to the institution once a week to lead the prison community, divided into small groups of 6-10 members, through a series of at least 12 weekly lessons and structured grouping. The series may be easily extended if desired. The first time the series is presented, the outside support community needs to provide all of the group facilitators. In subsequent series, the inside Kairos community provides 1 of the 2 facilitators required for each group of 6 to 8 participants.
Each week, the Journey presenter delivers a teaching of 20-45 minutes, then turns the groups over to the facilitators, who lead the small group discussion of the topic. Questions are suggested which promote exposure of feelings and these are then addressed by the group in a loving Christian manner. Residents learn how to minister to one another and grow from the experience.
Personal growth witnessed by individuals in this program has been phenomenal.
KAIROS RESIDENT COUNCILS
Kairos encourages Chaplains to arrange the formation of Kairos resident councils inside the institution. These are led by a resident leader elected by the residents from a field of candidates approved by the Chaplain. He or she and the Chaplain then select grouping captains from each dorm to make up the council. [Note: Some prisons do not allow any resident to have a leadership position over other residents.]
These men and women are a servant community for the remainder of the Kairos community in the institution. Their primary ministry is that of supporting and facilitating Kairos share and prayer groups. They are urged to review the grouping progress of residents in their environments weekly, to meet with those who have decided to drop out of a group and love them back into the group, or into another group, to follow up on those who miss grouping for any reason and help them find a group within which they will feel safe, at ease, challenged and at home.
The continuing ministry of Kairos is having a significant impact on the environments of the correctional institutions where it is active.
STRESS ON RESIDENT COMMUNITY
Kairos is resolved to do nothing which would contribute to making any resident more dependent upon Kairos team members than upon their Christian brothers/sisters in the compound. All segments of the program are designed to encourage residents to form community with residents rather than with Kairos volunteers. Outside volunteers are subject to the ego-inflation that such dependency would promote, and must resist It at every temptation.
Only when residents make commitments to each other do we consider the Kairos program to be working as it should.