Faithful Citizenship H arold D ean T r u lear
the chest with an accompanying, “Now sit down — 13 more years and you’re going to get the hell out of my house!” The mother then rehearsed for a matronly seatmate the difficulty of rising each morning at 5 a.m., feeding and dressing her children, taking them to school on It was a gray winter morning, but the public transit, going to work on the families — mostly women and young same, working, then repeating the cycle children — braved the chill and assem- in reverse. It was clear that she needed bled dutifully for another Sunday service the support of a network like the one at Praise and Glory Tabernacle (PGT), at PGT. located at the end of an alley of garages In their rush to “fix folk,” many conin Southwest Philadelphia. gregations offer specialized ministries for Children of all ages are expected to children, singles, couples, etc. that too sit through the service, as opposed to often consist of classroom sessions of bibbeing ushered out for children’s church lical information poured into the head/ or Sunday school.While the church does heart of needy individuals. Then, after have special programs for children as several verses of singing “I need you, you well as a dedicated Sunday for them to need me, we’re all a part of God’s body,” lead worship, Rev. Philip Whiteside we go our separate ways to rehearse the believes that Christian education is the stressful situations that can lead to punchresponsibility of the parents.“It’s impor- ing and cursing out a 5-year-old. tant for children to learn the same things Single mothers under duress don’t as their parents,” he explains, “and that need another class; they need another set means they learn to do what their par- of arms, ears, feet, and anything else that ents do in church. And then the parents’ serious Christian fellowship can provide role is to go home and reinforce what to ease the burden. With 70 percent of they all learned in church.” births to young African American women Sunday after Sunday, those children occurring out of wedlock, the challenge offer testimonials during the regular of building strong relationships heightservice alongside their mothers, often ens, because the children themselves are thanking God for their mothers’ guid- products of a relational malaise. ance or that of another woman in the Freda Robinson specializes in helping church who is “like another mother to women build the right kinds of relationme.” The women call each other, visit ships through making sound decisions. each other, and provide a network of A single mother herself, she once told her support for one another both in and son, “You are not living in my house beyond church. They text each other selling drugs.” But after his arrest, she words of encouragement, open their was charged with being a co-conspirator homes for collect calls from incarcer- in his drug trade for making a phone ated relatives, and provide an extended call to collect a debt for him to pay his family culture for each other and their bail. Her 10 years in the federal prison children. system brought her face to face with a I thought about those women last number of young women whose relamonth when I saw a 5-year-old riding the tional “errors” had landed them in a bus with his mother. He was defiantly situation far worse than sitting with an fidgety, ignoring her admonitions to sit obstinate kindergartner on a crowded quietly. Finally she punched him flush in city bus.
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Now released from federal prison, Robinson operates the Baltimore-based National Women’s Prison Project (NWPP),which mentors younger women returning from incarceration, teaching them spiritual principles and identifying and helping with tangible needs. NWPP’s work is relationally based because, says Robinson, “I learned how the company you keep is so important. That’s what I tell the young girls who want to be known as a ‘drug dealer’s girl.’ I met many of them in prison — and they weren’t getting visits from the boyfriends either.” Robinson’s ministry also coordinates a congregation-based reentry program for several churches in the Baltimore area on behalf of the Christian Association for Prisoner Aftercare, a national network of prisoner reentry ministries. In all of her work, building and strengthening relationships is critical. “Mothers are still mothers behind prison walls. They still love and worry about their children.They want to know what kind of grades they are making, how they are growing up, how their day went.” Robinson runs support groups for these women, both during and after incarceration, because she knows that the stresses they face can be handled through proper support. She wants congregations to offer the same support to these women, and she helps churches to do just that. I think of her when I see the mothers and children at my church — not split up into “age sensitive” ministries but worshipping, learning, and loving together. They are relationships that extend beyond the Sunday service and offer a needed challenge to the informationbased culture that seeks to fix everything with a “word.” n Harold Dean Trulear teaches at Howard University School of Divinity and consults for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Faith and Families Portfolio.