Rev. Cris H. Mogenson’s “church’ doesn’t have stained glass windows or a steeple. And his congregants wear orange jump suits instead of their Sunday best.

For the past 14 years the Free Methodist minister has been coordinating chaplain at the Broome County Sheriff’s Correctional Facility ministering through the Broome County Council of Churches to people whom, he knows, some in the larger society would just as soon forget.

The 53-year-old Mogenson considers it a theological calling. He points to Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 25:36 to care for the sick and visit those in prison. “It’s the disenfranchised who are in here, and Jesus would be visiting the fringe,” he said.

Mogenson works alongside Rev. Stanley Gerlock who has been part-time Catholic chaplain for 25 years. The minister also supervises some 90 volunteers also who provide a range of services from Bible studies to rosary groups to Arabic classes.

Mogenson compares jail ministry to working in a hospital emergency room. You catch people in a time of crisis and offer hope. “We’re not proselytizing, we’re interceding. We’re intervening to try and stop a problem before it becomes worse,” he said.

Realistically, however, discouragement comes with the job. “You have to be geared to the prospect of recidivism'” Mogenson said. He knows two-thirds of inmates will wind up back in jail. He also knows, while some people deserve to be behind bars, poverty and drug addiction play a role in this pattern.

But “once in awhile something clicks, something changes, and you get to see that,’ Mogenson emphasized.

Mogenson came to the jail ministry after having what he calls “an epiphany ” during a board meeting at a church where he was a pastor. The board was arguing about the color of the church’s carpet, “majoring in the minor” is how he puts it. “I decided I had had it. I was going back to the front lines.”

For his part, Gerlock really was reluctant to take the job as Catholic chaplain after being asked by the late Msgr. Peter Owens. That reluctance is now long gone. He has become so attached to the job that he asked to continue at the jail even after retiring as a parish priest 10 years ago.

The best part is when inmates take small steps to begin getting their lives back together, Gerlock said. For example, he remembers one inmate who told him “thank you” as the man was leaving the jail. The man then asked for a blessing to help deal with the difficulties of his life.

“You could have given me $1,000, and it wouldn’t have meant as much,” Gerlock said.

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