This 'charge conference' was held inside a prison


Rev. Tim Carpenter, left, Metro Asbury District superintendent, and Rev. Diane Harrison, pastor of Grace Place UMC, stand outside the Mark H. Luttrell Correctional Center in Memphis, Tenn., following Grace Place UMC's 2015 charge conference on Nov. 4. (Submitted photo)

By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Conference

Charge conferences typically take place in church sanctuaries and fellowship halls, but Metro Asbury District Superintendent Rev. Tim Carpenter presided over one inside a prison on Nov. 4.

Grace Place UMC in Memphis is located inside the Mark H. Luttrell Correctional Center, one of three female prisons run by the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

The charge conference is the basic unit in The United Methodist Church’s connectional system.

Grace Place’s pastor, Rev. Diane Harrison, said this was the church’s first charge conference held inside the prison since the church was chartered as a mission congregation in February 2013.

With Harrison and Carpenter in attendance were “Outside Council" member Mary Nelle Cook, Grace Place’s delegate to Annual Conference, and eight members of the church’s “Inside Council” –  Council Chair Tonjala Woodears, Tanya Christian, Vernita Freeman, Kristi Kimbro, Sarah Richardson, Daniela Ramirez, Pam Smith and Janalee Wilson.

Commenting on the experience, Carpenter said, "I constantly find that Christ is already present wherever we are called to go. At the charge conference, I had the privilege of being with a community of faith that Christ has built through the work of Grace Place. I was touched by their testimony of Christ's transforming power in their lives, and I was challenged by their commitment to the faith.”

Remembering highlights of the charge conference, Harrison said, “When we had communion, Pam served with Tim. He had her reading the liturgy. When she got to the Great Thanksgiving -- we sing the responses usually -- she looked at him and said ‘This is Pastor Diane's part' and then looked at me. I gave her a nod of encouragement and she sang out, "The Lord be with you!" We continued in our usual fashion, singing the responses. I was so proud of her.”

Harrison talked about showing Carpenter the congregation’s cross on the altar which she explained was “made with cardboard scraps retrieved from the chow hall trash, a little paint and (decoupage glue) by one of our women who also made a cheap plastic goblet look like a wooden chalice for communion.”

The charge conference included reports on some of the ministries Grace Place UMC has supported this year. “Thus far, they have given over $2,885 to missions,” said Harrison, “especially (ministries) that help children.”

The women of Grace Place "earn" money to pay apportionments and engage in ministry by making goods that are sold outside the prison.

“The outreach and mission of Grace Place is evidence that God's kingdom and grace is being praised and practiced,” noted Carpenter. “Not only is God blessing the community of Grace Place in their worship, study and fellowship, but God is blessing the community of Memphis and the world in their care and concern for others. My sincere gratitude is given to Rev. Diane Harrison, the leaders of the church and the many volunteers that make Grace Place possible."

Learn more about Grace Place UMC at