This blog entry is the first in a series on our students and alumni at Marion Correctional Institution (MCI). Because this unique community of learners cannot represent themselves through this platform, other voices will share about their journeys, both to faith in Christ and into ministry. This first entry, written by Academic Dean, Dr. Bruce Coats, provides background into Winebrenner Seminary’s education program at MCI.
In the fall term 2013, Winebrenner Seminary began teaching courses inside Marion Correctional Institute (MCI), which is a medium-security state prison about an hour from Winebrenner Seminary. Faculty instructed students right in the prison setting, funded by generous donors. Every week they traveled the hour from campus to MCI, accompanied by a prayer partner or two. At the same time, groups of prayer partners would gather at several locations to pray for the students. The effort was energized by MCI Chaplain, Dr. Murthy Kola (Winebrenner alumnus). The courses were part of Winebrenner’s Pastoral Training Institute (renamed Institute for Christian Studies in 2019). After completing the four-year course of study, eight students graduated from the program in 2017. Five of the initial group were Ordained into ministry by the Great Lakes Regional Conference of the Churches of God General Conference in December 2019.
The influence of the first group was felt throughout the prison. They were leaders in ministries through the religious services. They also helped lead in other ways throughout the prison. In a meeting with the Winebrenner President and Academic Dean in fall 2018, the Warden remarked, “They are participating in and helping to lead the positive things in the prison.” Many in the first cohort are serving lengthy sentences and will impact the 2550+ inmates at MCI for years to come.
Winebrenner started another cohort in fall 2019 with eighteen students. The influence of the first group attracted more students. They will go through the program, again taking four years. The men in the second cohort are serving diverse sentences. They come from diverse backgrounds and have unique stories. They are precious brothers in the faith.