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A Thanksgiving Message from Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We would like to wish you and your family a blessed Thanksgiving!

Amidst this difficult and challenging year, we still have so much for us to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season. Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry is forever thankful to all of our supporters, especially during this pandemic, ensuring that those in prison and jails can continue to receive Christ and His Church.

Our brothers and sisters in prisons and jails write to us every day saying how thankful they are for this ministry and all who are a part of it. Through your support, an orthodox presence is possible and we are able to accomplish Christ’s commandment to ‘visit Him’ in prison.

“Wanted to take a moment to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your supportive cards and letters. You cannot imagine how much it helps a prisoner who has lost everything to hear consistently from a group of God’s people that never judge, never criticize, but offer support, love, and kindness. THANK YOU so very much!”

While the holiday season can be especially trying for families with an incarcerated loved one, Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry tries to fill that void with the love of Christ. Our experience and guidance ensures the church is well equipped and trained to provide the emotional and spiritual support required for the entire family.

“God bless you all. I am so very thankful to you all and my
kids too. They have seen a big difference in my life thanks to you all.
They told me to tell you thank you for all you have done and the
difference you have made in my life.”

As we end this year strong, we give thanks to the Lord for all the lives that have been transformed by His grace. Though we are unworthy servants, we humbly carry His light into the darkest of places so Christ and His church are never removed from one’s life during their incarceration. We also give thanks to God for all those who generously provide for this ministry so we may continue to do His work.

In Christ,

Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry

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“Lock’m up and Weld the Doors Shut”

Years ago, I gave a retreat at a wonderful church. The retreat focused on God’s amazing love for people in prison and how He touched different lives in miraculous ways drawing them to Himself. I talked about things I had personally witnessed over my many years as a prison chaplain and how those men had begun to live lives of repentance following their Baptisms and Chrismations into the Orthodox Faith.

As I finished one of the sessions, I opened it up for questions or comments. An older gentleman stood up and shocked all of us with his words:

“I don’t believe a word of it. There is no forgiveness for those people in prison. They should be locked up and their doors welded shut!”

I responded to the man by asking him if he had any loved ones in prison and discussed how everyone is made in the image and likeness of God. It doesn’t matter how tarnished or covered with the mud that image and likeness becomes, they are still loved by God and they still have the opportunity to repent and become a child of God. The gentleman simply shook his head in disapproval and sat back down.

Over the years, I have heard similar statements many, many times. It seems there are many people that believe there is no forgiveness or hope of repentance for those in prison. To hold this view truly brings God down to the level of being simply a “super” human being that refuses to forgive and it misses the great love that God has for all of us, no matter how far we have strayed.

In my daily devotions, I came across this wonderful story this morning:

“In the time of the Emperor Maurice, there was a well-known bandit in the region around Constantinople. Both in the countryside and in the capital itself, he inspired fear and trembling. Then the Emperor himself sent him a Cross, as a pledge that he would not punish him if he gave himself up. The bandit took the Cross, and did indeed give himself up.

Arriving in Constantinople, he fell at the Emperor’s feet and begged his forgiveness. The Emperor kept his word, had mercy on him and let him go free. Immediately after that, the bandit fell gravely ill and sensed that death was near. He began to repent bitterly of all his sins, and implored God with tears to forgive him as the Emperor had. He shed many tears in his prayer, so the handkerchief with which he wiped them became soaked, and he died after ten days of prayerful weeping.

The night of his death, the doctor who had been attending him had a strange vision in a dream: When the bandit on the bed breathed his last, a number of demons gathered round him, flourishing bits of paper on which his sins were written, and two glorious angels also appeared. A pair of scales was placed in the middle, and the demons gleefully put all the bits of paper on it, and their side of the scales was loaded while the other was empty. ‘What can we put in?’ the angels asked each other. ‘Let’s look for something good in his life.’ Then there appeared in the hand of one of the angels the handkerchief soaked with tears of repentance. The angels quickly placed it on their side of the scales, and it at once outweighed the other side with all its papers. Then the demons fled, howling in anguish, the angels took the man’s soul and carried it to Paradise, glorifying God’s love for mankind.” (The Prologue from Ochrid, by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovc, Lazarica Press, Birmingham, 1986, Volume 4, page 81, October 18th)

May we never confuse God’s willingness to forgive sins with our own unwillingness to forgive others who have sinned. God’s invitation to repent of sins extends to everyone…including those precious souls in prisons. Indeed, some of our greatest saints were once murders, robbers, prostitutes, and more. Let us do our part in reaching out with the love of Christ to those in prison.

By Fr. Stephen Powley

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A Timely Reminder from OCPM

I entered the women’s prison with my keyboard on my hip and my Bible in my hand. My plan was to bring them to Christ through music and psalms. I had good intentions but God had other plans.

I surveyed the scene, praying the Jesus Prayer intensely. Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner. Such bedlam and cursing I had never seen. They looked me in the eye. I looked back with a “Holy Mother of God help them and help me” smile. While I was not sure of how to proceed, I knew that what comes from the heart, reaches the heart.

I asked someone to pray. Then I prayed standard opening Orthodox prayers. We chanted the 23rd psalm. Then I opened with 2 songs: This little light of mine and amazing grace. I thought I had things under control, when suddenly a large women twice my size approached me.
“Give me that keyboard,” she demanded. Flabbergasted, I mumbled “Sure.”

With her large hands, she turned that flimsy keyboard into an instrument more beautiful than David’s harp. The beastly attitudes faded. Loving voices lofted through the prison. Yes it is true. When words fail, music speaks (Hans Christian Anderson).

Alas, I was the one whose beastly holier than thou attitude was healed. Alas, I saw how God gives his gifts as he wills, and often hides them in prison. Alas, the women learned to love God and each other through music. Alas, the healing presence of Christ runs both ways.

I volunteered an inch but God showed us His mile. I sang a song but God has a song for everyone. Yes it is true, as the mother of Fr Moses Berry tells us: God loves all the flowers in His Garden.

Dr. Carla Thomas
OCPM Board Member

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May 20th 2018 Is Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday

To all the Clergy and the Laity of the Holy Orthodox Churches in the United States;

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

CHRIST IS RISEN!

The Hierarchs of The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America have approved this year, Sunday, May 20th, 2018 to be Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday in all Orthodox parishes of North America.

Our Divine Liturgy begins with petitions that include: “…for the captives and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.” Later, following the Holy Anaphora, the priest again prays: “Remember Lord… the captives and their salvation.”

Orthodox Christians are meant to put feet to their prayers. As St. Paul exhorts us: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things! (Romans 10:13-15)

Please put “feet” to your prayers for captives and for their salvation by assisting OCPM in bringing the Good News to the precious souls living in the prisons and jails of our country. OCPM needs your help to bring the Love and Light of Christ to these men and women who should also be afforded the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord. Would you please be so kind to pass a second tray for the ongoing ministry of OCPM on
Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday?

TRULY HE IS RISEN!
With love and thanks in our Risen Lord,

Fr. Stephen Powley
Executive Director

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The Case of Andrea

What follows is a letter from an inmate that Joy Corey ministered to under the auspices of OCPM while she was in the County Jail. Joy has been a member of the Chaplaincy Corps at that jail for 12 years and currently serves on the OCPM Board of Directors.

To Whom It May Concern:

My experience with the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry began in 2014 while I was incarcerated in Kootenai County Jail awaiting sentencing for a drug charge. A woman by the name of Joy Corey would come faithfully every Tuesday to teach a bible study. At my request, she agreed to meet with me one-on-one on a weekly basis for spiritual guidance. I received unconditional love and acceptance from Joy. Our one-on-one meetings continued for months until I was finally transported to South Boise Women’s Correctional Center to serve my time. I regularly received letters of encouragement from Joy while I was in Boise.

The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry sent me an orthodox bible to the prison. Father Duane Pederson and Zossima regularly sent me letters as well as an Orthodox Study Course at my request. I was able to work on it during my free time. Holidays are difficult and depressing in prison. But at Christmas time I received Orthodox Christmas cards from different OCPM members from all over the country. It made me feel like I mattered. I am truly grateful to have been blessed by this ministry, and I hope that it continues to get the support it needs to grow and flourish.” Thank you. Sincerely A.”

Andrea wrote this letter about the effectiveness of the work that OCPM is doing in the hopes that it might help others come to appreciate their efforts as much as she does.

Before Andrea was transported to prison, I asked her, as I do all inmates God entrusts to me, to write a letter to her family apologizing for all the pain and suffering she put them through. However, I have one stipulation which they must follow: they are never to justify themselves, but rather to take full responsibility for the pain they have inflicted on others. As a result of her asking for their forgiveness, Andrea’s estrangement from her family ended and I became close to her parents. Knowing Andrea’s background might help you appreciate even more how far she has come:

Andrea was engaged to be married while attending the University of Washington on a scholarship as a pre-med student. A promising future to say the least! She was a 4.0 student! Suddenly tragedy struck when her fiancé was murdered. She became addicted to drugs and ended up kidnapped off the streets of Seattle, locked in a closet for four days and raped, finally escaping. When Andrea’s incarceration was terminated and she was appointed a Probation Officer, I attended all her court hearings, had her attend my classes for former inmates at my church and in time she became a catechumen.

Andrea was received into the Holy Orthodox Church on December 31st, 2017 and she asked my husband and me to be her Godparents. Currently, Andrea is working as manager of the furniture department in a known retail store, but plans to return to the University to follow her dream of doing something in the field of medicine. When she isn’t working, she sings in the Church choir next to me. She is a delight, a beautiful young lady of 27 years of age with a wonderful future thanks to the help of OCPM and the God that serves His incarcerated through His servants who minister to Him in the jails and prisons of America. For the Lord said, “I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matt. 25:36)

 

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The Case of James

A parish priest had a dilemma when he learned that a sex offender, who was interested in Orthodoxy, was being released to the neighboring state which he bordered. No church in either state wanted him. The godly priest, took a chance. He presented a document to his parish which required that this sex offender sign. It stipulated that at no time was he to be with a child alone in the church and that he would, at all times, be accompanied by an adult. This was not being unkind. This would prevent the possibility of his being falsely accused and would give peace to the parents of every child. The parish agreed. It cost them several families who left in anger. Those families missed out on being part of a MIRACLE!

Various families would pick him up and drop him off after coffee hour. Eventually he was baptized into the Orthodox Church and became a member of this priest’s community. This parish understood that the Church is a hospital where we come for healing (we all fall short of the glory of God as every one of us is a grievous sinner); that the congregants are the nursing staff, nursing the sick back to good spiritual health through their prayers and love of God and each other; and that the priest is the spiritual doctor who administers spiritual medicines, i.e. the Sacraments of Confession and Communion. We are all spiritually ill and need the prayers of the Church. Our illnesses have different names: liars, gossipers, thieves, fornicators, adulterers, bearers of lack of forgiveness, resentments and hatreds, etc.

In time, he decided to move to New Orleans. While there, he wrote a letter to the community thanking them for helping him to heal through their love for, and acceptance of, him. Then Hurricane Katrina struck with a vengeance. He lost everything. One phone call back to that priest who had baptized him brought him home to the community that chose to love him and pray for his salvation. In fact, they raised the money for his airplane ticket to return. James continued to thrive in this loving community.

At his funeral, the priest read aloud from James’ journal pursuant to his instructions. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church. He addressed those that had left the parish in anger and hatred for him, telling them that he loved and forgave them, having prayed for them every single day of his life. He instructed the priest that he wanted those men to be the pallbearers at his funeral.

The priest was faced with another dilemma! James died destitute. Who would pay for his funeral? Miracle of miracles; those men whom James had asked be made his pallbearers paid for all his funeral expenses and the parish made his Mercy Meal! This is what love looks like. This is love clothed in mercy and blanketed with forgiveness. It might interest you to know, that some of those who left the parish because of him returned when they saw into his heart through his death! The priest and the sex offender walked side-by-side through the doors of the church to teach us all about Christian love!

-Written by Joy Corey, a prison ministry volunteer

 

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The Case of Melanie

Imagine you are ten years old; your mother is a drunk who never knows of your whereabouts, nor does she care; your father isn’t in the picture and you find yourself roaming the streets of one of America’s mid-sized cities. Your friends are pimps and prostitutes and you’ve learned to make money so you can feed yourself by selling drugs. By the time you are thirteen years old, you are kidnapped by one of the cities’ notorious pedophiles and swept away to a wooded area clear across the country which is known to be the hide-away for America’s pedophiles and their victims – a place of isolation from society where their dirty, little deeds can go on undetected. Such is the background for Melanie’s life of drugs and alcohol. She ended up giving her kidnapper three children. He actually married her when she was seventeen. She is now in her mid-thirties.

Melanie’s story is extraordinary in that she and her children were able to escape from the grips of this man through the efforts of a female attorney who in the northeastern part of the country regularly scouts these woods for pedophiles and their prey. She sends a team in to remove the children to one location and their mother to another. In time they are reunited. Her children are in their early twenties now. She chose to come back to the city she lived in as a child. She wanted to see her mother. Nothing had changed. Drugs were available everywhere.

I met Melanie in the early part of 2014 when she began coming to my Bible Studies in the County Jail. Two weeks after she got released from prison and put on probation, she slipped up. She found a baggie full of meth on the sidewalk and picked it up. She lied to the officer who happened to see her pick it up and ended up back in jail. She was sent to prison and wrote the following to me from there:

“Dear Joy, Hello! Boy do I miss hearing your words of encouragement.  I am really kicking myself in the butt for thinking God was gonna let me slip by with just a little compromise.  I know better than that.  For some reason I just can’t seem to totally give up my control.  All about me …. It needs to be all about God.  Please keep me in your prayers.  I will continue to pray for God to help me once and for all let go and let God. . . . I really need you now, your prayers for sure.  A letter would help too.  I’m so disappointed in myself but I can’t dwell on it.  I have got to keep going.  You were right about a lot of things and I am sorry for not listening.  God has a plan for me now.  It’s time to be still and know He is God!!  I love you!” “Dear Joy, Hello! Boy do I miss hearing your words of encouragement.  I am really kicking myself in the butt for thinking God was gonna let me slip by with just a little compromise.  I know better than that.  For some reason I just can’t seem to totally give up my control.  All about me …. It needs to be all about God.  Please keep me in your prayers.  I will continue to pray for God to help me once and for all let go and let God. . . . I really need you now, your prayers for sure.  A letter would help too.  I’m so disappointed in myself but I can’t dwell on it.  I have got to keep going.  You were right about a lot of things and I am sorry for not listening.  God has a plan for me now.  It’s time to be still and know He is God!!  I love you!”

When Melanie returned from prison, I wrote a letter on her behalf and promised I would walk by her side. She was put back on probation and has not let the judge down nor me. I sat in the front row when she received her certification as a welder. This was her life’s dream. Her mother sat next to me. Her children were proud of her although they were still back east. She works on construction sites in town.

My church helped to get her furniture for her apartment and my husband and I delivered it. I have seen her atop of many a building replete with hardhat and workman’s overalls and invariably she shouts down to me, “Hi Joy” as she frantically waves. This tattooed, tough lady (and I use this word loosely), is now helping others stay out of prison and off of drugs. I love her dearly. Her entire apartment is done in a Sponge Bob theme. The majority of inmates have stunted their emotional growth through the use of drugs. They’ve never learned to work through any problem and its associated pain, only to escape it which is what the drugs and alcohol allow them to do. While God has welded the pieces of her life together, she has gained a reputation as a master welder. Glory be to God!

-Written by Joy Corey, a prison ministry volunteer

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The Case of Sheila

Sheila was raised in an atheistic home.  If she spoke the word “God,” she would be smacked so hard and beaten by her father.  I’ll never forget the first time I met Sheila while conducting my OCPM Bible Studies in the County Jail.  She was awaiting sentencing for her drug addiction which led to grand theft auto.  She sat at the back of the class with her arms and legs crossed, her hair untamed and a smug look on her face that read “prove yourself to me!”  At first, she never engaged me either with a word or a smile.  In time, I would learn she only attended my class so as to be able to spend time away from her pod.  I watch the inmates’ body language carefully and over months, I began to see a change in Sheila’s demeanor – her arms began to unlock and unfold themselves, she uncrossed her feet, her facial expression was softening and she began to ask questions.  

When the judge sentenced her, she asked if I would write her and send her copies of my bible studies. Here’s a quote from one of her letters from prison:

“I hope you know what a blessing you have been in my life.  Your words are so inspirational.  The studies you send me are helpful to so many women here.  I loved the story of St. Mary of Egypt.  It really made me think of my sin in a whole new light.  I felt a connection to her story considering I was forgiven much also.  It made me think of Jesus’ mother Mary differently also.  I am so thankful for her obedience to God.  I can’t imagine how the story would have gone if she had said “no” to the angel who asked her to carry God’s child.  I want to be a woman of virtue.  Thank you for pointing me in the direction of how to be one…. Thank you for all of your support and amazing advice.  Since the choices I made put me in jail, and jail is where I met you years ago, I’m ok with the events that brought me there.  I’ve never had someone like you in my life and I’m just happy God had a plan in our divine appointments.  I can’t wait to see what glory He will bring out of my sorted past.  My future is in His hands and I love it.  Praise God!  I love you.”

It was Christmas time and she had already paid a heavy price for her drug addiction – she lost her two older children.  The courts took them away from her and they were adopted out.  Sheila was deeply pained over this.  She did have one child at home through her second marriage.  Meth is one mighty god that tenaciously holds onto its victims until they’ve lost everything.  I teamed up with another Chaplain and we played Santa Claus to her three children.  She now has her two adopted children back in her life.

Sheila is 36 years old and has spent 21 of those years in and out of prison.  She is another miracle of God’s.  September 24, 2017, Sheila was baptized into the Holy Orthodox Church.  She took the name of Anna, Mary’s mother. She is now attending College and is a 4.0 student, heading towards a degree in Drug and Alcohol Counselling.  She is an honors student and has been asked to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society.  She has been used by God in our parish to help some of the teens who have become victims of drug and alcohol and she is an inspiration to them all.  Recently, I had Sheila join me in speaking at another Orthodox Church about OCPM.  She inspired a dentist in attendance to say to me, “I would like to help this young lady.  I am a dentist and am offering to fix her teeth at no charge.  Have her call me.”  Meth destroys one’s teeth so this was a huge gift this Orthodox man was willing to give her.  On our way home, I turned to Sheila who sat in the back seat behind my husband and told her what this Doctor had to say.  She gasped; clutched her mouth and said: “OMG, I cannot believe what you said.  Just this week Joy I prayed and asked God to make it possible for me to have my teeth fixed.”  Upon my return home, I wrote an email to this doctor and told him: “I want you to know Dr. O. that you have played a key role in one of God’s miracle.”  To God be all glory!

 

-Written by Joy Corey, a prison ministry volunteer

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“How Does That Work?”

Serving many, many years in a prison that was said to hold the “worst of the worst” men in the world taught me to never underestimate what God can do in someone’s life. Can you fathom someone who has literally done “every evil imaginable under the sun” asking me how they could stop cussing? Well, this didn’t just happen one time, but it happens over and over again.

For most of them, it began with their baptism into the Holy Orthodox Church. Their lives were transformed in those holy waters of baptism. Then came a desire to clean up every part of their lives, including their language. “Father, when I go out to rec I always end up cussing with the other men. I want to stop, but how can I?” How would you answer someone who wants to quit cussing when everyone around them is cussing up a storm?

When the first person asked me that question, I responded with: “Before you go out to recreation, simply make the sign of the Cross over your lips and ask Jesus to be the Lord of your mouth and every word that comes out of it.” The next time I made my rounds by his cell, he greeted me with: “Father, how does that work? Not a single cuss word came out of my mouth!” I smiled and told him that God answered his heartfelt prayer. It was not a one-time forever fix; he should do it every time he got ready to go out to rec.

Over the years, more and more men asked me the same question and I gave the same answer. Some of these men were already Orthodox and others were simply looking into the Orthodox Faith. The result for those who did it was always the same and their response to me was always to same: “How does that work?”

I continue to share this spiritual tool that we have available to us with people all across our country. Anyone who wants help with their cussing, gossip, or even harsh talk toward others receives the same response from me. If you are having any issues with what comes out of your mouth around certain people, try this: Before you meet up with them make the sign of the Cross over your lips and ask Jesus to be the Lord of your mouth and every word that comes of it. Give it a try and let us know how it went. Remember it is not a one-time fix; so continue to do it regularly. In fact, it might be a great way to start each day.

We would like to publish 10,000 pamphlets with this teaching expanded to send into men and women in prisons across the country. If you would like to help cover the costs for this publication and many more of the books, Icons, and pamphlets OCPM sends each month, please prayerfully consider a donation to this ministry.

God bless you and may He be Lord over our mouths each day!!

P.S. If you are struggling with thoughts in your mind, you might try the same type of thing. Make the sign of the Cross over your forehead and ask Jesus to be the Lord over your mind and the thoughts in it. I use this often in my own spiritual warfare and it truly does work.

-Fr. Stephen Powley

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“Time Waits For No Man”

“Time waits for no man!”  This quote is attributed to Jeffery Chaucer back in the 1300’s and has been popular throughout the centuries ever since. It almost seems “other-worldly” to be writing about the year 2018.  Where have the years gone?  They have slipped away like sand through our fingers…we could not stop the onward march of time.  Even as I write this, the seconds on the clock tick away, never to be lived again.

We have to come face to face with this matter of time in order to be inspired to live in the moment.  I believe that is what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote: “Today is the day of salvation!”  Life truly is neither about our successes or failures of the past nor about our dreams of success in the future.  Life is this moment we live in…the decisions we make…the words that come out of our mouth…the path we choose on any given day.  

2017 was a good year for OCPM and we thank God for His blessings.  But, we cannot rest on the past.  2018 is upon us and each moment of each day is a precious gift from God.  May we live each moment in a way pleasing to God.  

How do we please God moment by moment?  That question was asked of St. Anthony the Great and he gave an answer for each of us to consider and apply to our lives:  Abba Anthony replied, “Whoever you are, always have God present before your eyes. Whatever you do, do it according to the guidance of the Holy Scriptures. In whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts…”

As we live each moment of 2018, may we do our best to apply these 3 points:  1) Begin each day with prayer and please remember to ask God to be with those precious souls in prison (you can use the Jesus Prayer with your prayer rope for this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on those men and women in prison.”).  2) Begin each day with reading the Holy Scriptures, looking for applications to use in the moments your life of that day.  3) Apply this final thought to your own life in your Church: Be faithful to your Church with your attendance and participation in a Sacramental life. Be faithful with the six things our Lord calls us to do in Matthew 25…especially Matthew 25:36. Be faithful with your service, with your support, with your words and actions, and with your love for those who truly need your help.

Time may not wait for any man, but thankfully, we have each moment of each day given to us as a precious gift from God.  May 2018 find us pleasing God in those moments. With a heart filled with thanksgiving, love, and prayers for each of you in our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

Fr. Stephen