Courtesy: The Rev. Peggy Bryan
From time to time, our FaithXperimental Spotlight series shines a light on particular faith-based communities or organizations that are engaging missional opportunities or challenges in their neighborhoods in innovative and experimental ways. Today’s spotlight is focused on an innovative ministry partnership in San Jose, California.
The Stepping Stone Gathering is a ministry partnership between St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Saratoga, California, and Grace American Baptist Church, a radically-inclusive Baptist church in downtown San Jose.
Their weekly ministry starts with a Sunday morning worship service at Grace American Baptist (shown above), which is then repeated in the afternoon at the county jail (Santa Clara County Elmwood Correctional Facility, Men’s Dormitory Unit). Both services involve Jail and Reentry Worship Team members and clergy from St. Andrew’s and Grace members join in the morning worship. Upon release, formerly incarcerated men come to the service at Grace where they are welcomed by friendly and familiar faces and tangible reentry support, including groceries, clothing, transportation, and more.
Every Sunday, 50 or more men meet for worship in Stepping Stone Gathering’s worship service at the jail. Meanwhile, as many as 20 reentering men, along with their families and members of St. Andrew’s and Grace gather together for worship and support at the Stepping Stone Gathering’s urban church. The ministry maintains an active communication network via a Google Group and Facebook Page.
Renee, 41, made the rounds between prison and jail for the past 17 years since his early 20’s. At his last stint in jail he responded to an invitation to join the first jail-based Education for Ministry (EfM) class in the country, facilitated by Saint Andrew’s mentors. He proudly graduated from Year 1, was released, and six months later celebrated another graduation from rehabilitation, after which Renee and his mom Clara were confirmed and joined Saint Andrew’s (see their picture above with Bishop Mary Grey-Reeves). On Sundays he gets up early to participate in the Stepping Stone service, then doubles back, picks up his mom, and attends the midmorning service at Saint Andrew’s. Renee currently serves on a parish committee that reviews and awards grants to outreach agencies and is organizing an IBIY (I Believe in You) team to join the 545 mile LifeCycle ride to end AIDS.
“I have never been part of any church community,” says Renee, “but since those very first days when I hesitantly signed up for the EFM class held in my jail unit and then accepting the invitation to come to Saint Andrews, I see what real community is. The support I need is always there and it inspires me to live into a strong Christian life.”
St. Andrew’s and Grace launched Stepping Stone’s Sunday morning reentry/recovery service in October of 2018 and is part of of a larger jail ministry, which has been in operation since 2014. The Jail/Reentry Ministry is led by the Rev. Peggy Bryan, whose position is fully funded by grants from The Episcopal Church and Saint Andrew’s.
For more information on this innovative and collaborative partnership, contact Peggy Bryan at [email protected] and 1-408-679-0240.
The Rev. Peggy Bryan is pastoral associate at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Saratoga and spends much of her time in the community visiting with the recently released.
She is from Santa Cruz and Dinkey Creek, California and is a graduate of the University of Southern California. (“Go Trojans!”). Peggy’s hobbies include swimming, hiking, and indie films. She also enjoys film festivals, Christian contemporary music, bluegrass music, Mexican Train, dancing, walking, social media, paying it forward, baseball, 49ers, and strong coffee. Her favorite Bible verse is Micah 6: 8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Is your faith-based community or organization doing something innovative and experimental to engage or transform the neighborhoods and communities it serves? Write about it and send it to [email protected]. You might find your story featured here.