This unique Stations of the Cross project features the words and experiences of incarcerated students enrolled in the School of Restorative Arts (SRA) program offered by North Park Theological Seminary (NPTS) at Stateville Correctional Center. Stateville is a maximum-security prison just outside of Chicago that houses 1,200 men. NPTS enrolls over 80 students in this program and has been offering classes at Stateville since 2015. NPTS is the only institution of higher education in Illinois that offers a master’s degree to incarcerated individuals. This program takes place in an integrated classroom setting, where both free and incarcerated persons study together in cohorts. This program’s degree is for servant leaders interested in seminary-level theological training who desire to do restorative justice ministry in contexts that are susceptible to conflict or violence.
NPTS is committed to giving witness to the radical nature of Christ’s reconciling love in the lives of all our students. During this past Holy Week, our students reminded us that Good Friday is a time where the Church is called to sit with the excruciating weight of the crucifixion, remembering that our Lord and Savior was falsely incarcerated and unjustly executed by a broken criminal justice system.
Moreover, that Silent Saturday challenges us to discern what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. It challenges Christians to cling to Scripture’s promise that death does not have the last word, even as despair, violence, and systemic sin abound. Few places can feel as silent as prisons, and yet—in this project—our incarcerated brothers in Christ prophetically bear witness to Easter hope while affirming the pain that comes from brokenness that God is actively restoring. Our students are becoming everyday peacemakers because they have come to realize that God is not done with them and still has a mission and purpose for their lives. Part of that purpose is pastorally speaking to the broader Church.
Faculty—which I am one—in the SRA program adamantly believe that no person is beyond redemption, that many human systems (like our criminal justice system) are broken, and that Scripture is true when it declares that nothing, and no deed, can separate us from the love of Christ. One of the primary outcomes of the SRA program is that our students own their stories and work toward personal healing. Throughout their courses, and upon graduating, our students contribute to the restorative work that the gospel requires. This work is easy for no one, but it is especially difficult for those who must engage the depths of their own brokenness while realizing the harm they have caused others. This project is a wonderful expression of the restorative work our students have committed to doing on both personal and systemic levels, and I believe their work has something beautiful to offer the entire body of Christ.
This video was curated by the School of Restorative Arts redemptive storytelling cohort (re)story in collaboration with seminary alumnae Alicia Reese and Cheryl Lynn Cain. The SRA program is directed by Dr. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom. The SRA programs is also supported by Love Mercy Do Justice mission priority of the Evangelical Covenant Church.
*One of the men whose words are captured in this project just died on Palm Sunday due to COVID-19.