Women at the Well celebrates 10th anniversary

Women at the Well celebrates 10th anniversary

published 4/5/2017
A large crowd of United Methodists gathered in Ames this past weekend to celebrate 10 years of vital ministry helping forgotten, abused and underprivileged women, Women at the Well. Women at the Well (WATW) is a church congregation within the walls of the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women (ICIW) in Mitchellville, east of Des Moines.
Click here to see an album of images from the anniversary worship celebration

Women at the Well was first envisioned by Bishop Gregory Palmer after holding exploratory meetings with the Iowa Department of Corrections.  On Feb. 8, 2007, Women at the Well was officially consecrated and led by Rev. Arnette Pint. Women at the Well provides support and sisterhood for women at the prison.
According to its website, Women at the Well’s mission is “to empower women to change their lives and return to the community as healthier productive citizens.” It also strives to “inspire people to reach their full potential in life by modeling the way.”
Earlier this year, Bishop Laurie Haller joined current pastor Lee Schott, district superintendents and Women at the Well volunteers for a 10-year celebration at the prison. The women gave different reasons for attending, but one thing was clear, they stayed because the spirit moved them.

Letting Go into the Night
Bishop Haller’s sermon recalled the night in February she delivered the Word to the women at the prison. She recalled that once in the prison, she had to “let go” of control because every action and movement was made when the prison guards said it was time to do so. Go through a metal detector one-by-one. Wait for the door to open. Wait for the door to close. Wait for another door to open. Wait for the door to close. Wait in this room. No touching the prisoners. No taking things from prisoners, unless prior approval was given. No giving things to prisoners. The women in the prison, though, didn’t have a choice to let go of families or children, Haller reflected.
Click here to see the video of the live stream of the service

“They didn’t have a choice, but the rest of us do,” said Haller. “I prayed for the women at Mitchellville, as well as for those hired to watch over them, and for the volunteers, that we might become sacraments of grace and hope for each other.”
Weekend of Celebration
Schott and the volunteers of Women at the Well turned the weekend into a celebration and a learning experience. On Saturday, April 1, Women at the Well hosted a workshop called “The Crisis of Mass Incarceration Right Next Door: Becoming Stations of Hope.” It highlighted the mass incarceration of United States citizens. The US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world.
The mass incarceration has an effect on communities and families. Speaker and author Harold Dean Trulear spoke about ways churches can help women who are incarcerated and their families who have been affected. The goal was to inspire, empower and equip church leaders to build relationships of healing, redemption, and reconciliation in families and communities impacted by crime and mass incarceration.
Faith-based Reentry
Re-entry is the process where ex-offenders transition from prison to life outside bars. Women at the Well provides reentry teams for women who ask for it. Reentry teams help women with basic issues of life back in their communities: housing, employment, finances, clothes, transportation and long-range issues like education, addiction treatment, health care and life skills needed to succeed in the community.
Women at the Well’s faith-based reentry teams are organized by Deacon Brenda Hobson. They are made of five to seven trained volunteers from one or more congregations in an area where an ex-offender settles. The team members focus on mentorship, accountability, goal setting, and faith formation. The team supports the women while also holding her accountable for her actions.
The teams work with one woman for up to year, so Women at the Well are in constant need of new reentry teams or existing teams who are ready to sign on to a new yearlong commitment, said Hobson on Sunday.
Transformative Ministry
Haller recited a sonnet about representing the transformative power of Women at the Well.
“Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
And you the bell. As you ring,
What batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
Say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.”
Haller’s reflection hit close to the home as many of Women at the Well’s congregants wrote down their thoughts of what the ministry means to them and how it has helped empower, heal and provide a safe place to them.
“I can’t imagine ICIW without WATW – it’s the only place that I truly feel peace here.”
“Well I have never had someone to show me how love feels. And now I know what love really feels like.”
“It’s peace and serenity in the middle of chaos. I feel relief from everything when I come to Women at the Well. Pastor Lee is wonderful.”
“I am thankful for the way that Women at the Well has helped me empower myself!”
“I am thankful that Women at the Well helped me find my voice. I was afraid to share my faith. I was afraid of how people would judge me. Women at the Well has given me confidence in my faith during this hard time, helped me grow and has given me a place I feel welcome – even in prison.”
“I really am grateful to be here, sober, and being able to come to a place and sit with all these different, beautiful people and be grateful for being alive and well.”
How You Can Help
Women at the Well receives no government funding. Support for the church and its resources comes from the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, local congregations, and other interested groups and parties.
People can help support Women at the Well in a number of ways. For more information on Women at the Well, visit

Bishop invites pastors:

Bishop invites pastors: "take risks.”

published 4/4/2017
“Be willing to take some risks,” said Bishop Laurie Haller and “reach out to a hurting world with the love of Christ.” Her challenge was to pastors of some of Iowa’s largest churches, who gathered on March 30 at Altoona United Methodist Church. At the same time, she invited the nearly 40 clergy present to “protect your spirits, cultivate relationships with others, and understand the joys and trials of being in pastoral ministry.”
To view images from the day, please visit our Flickr gallery.

Grounding today’s ministry to a historic context, Bishop Laurie noted, “From the beginning, the Methodist church was a contextual ministry. Just as early on, we must minister to people where they are. We also should go out from our buildings. And remember, personal holiness and social holiness go together, that was something John Wesley appreciated and was saturated in.”
Pastors of large churches in Iowa serve congregations with average worship attendance of more than 200. Host pastor, Rev. John Gaulke, reminded the gathering, “There is no more important profession than ministry, offering the Good News, love, and the acceptance of Jesus Christ.”
On the theme of risk-taking, Bishop Laurie noted “that’s something missing in many churches. Often we’re afraid to try something because we’re afraid to fail.” She invited the group to reflect on Jesus’ advice from Matthew 9.16-17: “No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes because the patch tears away the cloth and makes a worse tear. No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the wineskins would burst, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined. (CEB)” 
“Taking risks is one thing that churches are reluctant to do, but must do,” Bishop Laurie noted. “We need to go out into the community and get involved in what’s happening.” She shared some reasons why millennials, for example, seem to be missing from communities of faith: Mission and vision statements aren’t enough; they don’t want us to keep blaming the culture; they want to feel valued and want us to be kind, compassionate and accepting; they want to be mentored and become partners in ministry; they want to talk about controversial issues; they want to help the poor; and they want to connect with the community and make a difference in the world.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go. (T. S. Eliot) This, and other insights on risk taking, were shared by Bishop Laurie. She also noted, from among the quotes, “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
“We need to keep trying different things,” she added. “When new ideas arise we need to ask, ‘Does it fit with the mission,’ minimize or eliminate roadblocks and find ways to empower people to be in ministry.” Some of the “risks clergy must take” include: being transparent and vulnerable; sharing power with the laity; talking openly about stewardship; being open to the transforming power of the Spirit; challenging others to a deeper walk with God; leading through adaptive change and necessary endings; and saying “I’m sorry.”
In the ensuing question and answer session conversation included the imperative to start new churches.  “We need to be strategic in new church starts,” Bishop Laurie advised.  “We need to provide the support and get the help to be able to do that.”  Regarding congregational revitalization, she added, “HCI is providing new hopes and possibilities.”
An afternoon session included a discussion of the L3 (loving, learning, leading) process in which the Conference is engaged, led by Rev. Bill Poland, Rev. Barrie Tritle, and Rev. Jon Disburg.  Bishop Laurie also led a short segment about the work of the Commission on the Way Forward and the Iowa Conference’s week of prayer – March 21-27 – for the work of the Commission.
Appreciation was expressed to Pastor John Gaulke and the staff of the Altoona United Methodist Church, which opened some refurbished facilities, that day, for the gathering. Thanks, as well, to Diane Brookmeyer and Sara Carlson, of the Episcopal Office, for managing the day’s arrangements.  And thanks to “The Band” of Chris St. Clair, Bob Barrett, and John Louk for providing the music and leading the singing.