“Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell has directed each of the state’s prisons to implement “Stay with Unit” plans to provide living unit separation, and to minimize the potential for COVID-19 spread. “Stay with Unit” ensures incarcerated individuals participate in facility activities, including any programming, yard time, and dining, only with others in their living unit. By providing living unit separation, better social distancing becomes possible and we minimize the potential for widespread outbreaks across entire facilities” (https://mn.gov/doc/about/covid-19-updates/mcf-stillwater-covid-19-response/).
Based on the foregoing, face-to-face visits regarding religious services are still suspended. However, there is still dialogue between MN Correctional Facilities (MCFs) and volunteers. We have been advised by Chaplains that they are still studying the possibility of resuming religious services as soon as it is humanly possible. The current pandemic with its emerging variant(s) has protracted the process. So far regarding the MCFs, about 6 of our current volunteers have been retrained virtually – Rush City, Oak Park Heights, Stillwater. There are also discussions for virtual services via Microsoft Teams. Please note that we will need volunteers when the MCFs eventually reopen face-to face services – All volunteers will have to be vaccinated.
MCF- Stillwater has sent out a plan regarding what in person service may look like- 2 volunteers with 16 Offenders (in the main chapel) all socially distanced at 6 feet and everyone will need to remain in his space. No congregational singing will be permitted – only one person allowed to sing. Everyone will have to wear his/her mask at all times. No hugging, no physical contact allowed. Persons will have to use restroom before attending services – no bathroom break during services.
Currently, we have 3 volunteers providing religious services at the Benton County Jail in St Cloud. Our volunteers go in person to the jail but do not see the Offenders in person – they are in a different room from the Offenders and connect virtually.
The MN Conference of SDAs has ordered and received 5000 Andrews Study Bibles in mid-January 2022. These will be distributed to the various MCFs throughout the year. We thank, Elder Lyons and his staff for project and for their t support to Prison Ministries (MN Adventist Prison Ministries (MAPM).
The Christmas Behind Bars’ (CBB) package distribution went well last December (2021) despite a late start. Over 2,700 packages were delivered to 43 jails, 2 shelters, and 3 youth group homes. These packages were stored at the Countryside SDA Church in Sauk Rapids – members assisted in unloading the semi. MAPM also want to thank the volunteers who delivered these packages to their destinations. We also want to thank the churches and individuals who made financial contributions so that we could promptly defray the cost associated with this undertaking.