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Alleluia Story: Prison Ministry of the Diocese of Newark

John preparing for Bible study.
Bruce Parker

“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Every Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 7:00 at Northern State Prison in Newark, the words of Matthew 25:36 are realized in the ministry of Episcopalian John Vine who for more than 15 years has lead a Bible study group for inmates at the facility. His ministry is a program of the Diocese of Newark’s Prison Ministry.

John got involved in prison ministry 18 years ago when he volunteered at a national program that provided Christmas presents to the children of parents who were incarcerated. “We delivered presents to a grandmother who was raising three kids on her own, the father having been incarcerated and the mother having died of a drug overdose,” recalls Vine. “When I asked her if there was anything else we could do she said, ‘Help my boy to know the Lord.’ That touched me in such a powerful way that I knew I had to do something.”

Vine’s weekly Bible study group consists on average of about eight male inmates, who are “processing out.” The men are housed in a section of the prison known as “Minimum One,” referring to the lowest level of security provided in Northern State. “These guys don’t want any more trouble in their lives,” Vine explains. “It is wonderful to share in their joy when they announce they are going home or to a half-way house.”

Each evening starts with prayer before actual work with the text begins. Usually a hymn or song is also sung. Vine’s partner in this ministry is Paul Murphy, a Roman Catholic layperson. The two use the common lectionary in selecting passages for study so the program actually runs in tandem with the church year. Their preferred translation is the NIV (also quoted above).

A towering six feet eight inches, Vine is known to the inmates as “Little John.” By day he works for as a horticulturalist serving corporate clients of a national service provider. “After a busy and often tense day at work, I’m so uplifted by my time spent with these guys,” he says. “It’s a privilege to study scripture with them and share my knowledge.”

Vine is a member and sometime vestryperson at St. Michael’s Church, Wayne. His ministry is but one part of the Diocese of Newark Prison Ministry. Vine said he cherishes his colleagues in prison ministry, the Rev. Pamela Bakal, president of DNPM, and the Rev. Audrey Hasselbrook, DNPN member. Alleluia Fund dollars helped greatly in furthering this vital ministry in 2015. Your generous support in 2016 will insure the work of John Vine and the diocese’s Prison Ministry continues to flourish.