justala-simpson-story.jpgWhen I applied to Candler’s Master of Divinity program in January 2020, I had no idea that life, as we knew it, would change two months later. My idea of seminary looked like late night study sessions and endless coffee trips. What would virtual seminary, or Zoominary—as we affectionately called it—look like?

When selecting my Contextual Education I site, I chose Lee Arrendale State Prison. I was interested in working with the women at Arrendale because I wanted to broaden my ministry experience, specifically relating to justice, or lack thereof, in this country. Because of the pandemic, we were unable to travel to the prison and enter a physical space with the women at Arrendale. How were we supposed to care for individuals that we’ve never seen? How would we know their needs? How would we know what to pray for?

During one of our class sessions, Arrendale Chaplain Susan Bishop 75T invited her fellow Candler alumna Iyabo Onipede 16T to join us. During her presentation, Iyabo shared with us the power of the “ministry of presence.” While its name may cause you to think of physical presence, it is so much more. Ministry of presence allows you to create space in your heart and mind for people whose names you may not know and whose experiences you may be oblivious to. It’s steeped in unadulterated care. A care that loves fearlessly. It is thanks to that care that, although we never met any of the women at Arrendale, we were able to hold them in our hearts, which was incredibly powerful.

Top photo: Brett Jordan, unsplash.com