'Two Sisters Ministry' provides office home for prison congregation: Grace Place United Methodist Church

7/24/2018

Clockwise from top left: 1. & 2. Rev. Diane Harrison inside Two Sisters' building. 3. Exterior of Bartlett building. 4. Kitchen. 5. Meeting room. 6. Harrison's office. 7. Shelves of crafts for sale in gift shop. (Photos by Lane Gardner Camp)


By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications

A “hidden ministry” is how Rev. Diane Harrison describes her prison congregation.

Located at the Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center (WTRC) at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Fort Pillow, Tennessee, Grace Place United Methodist Church (UMC) has space for worship and activities, but the rural location 60 miles north of Memphis is not suited to meeting, greeting and educating ministry supporters.

For that reason, Grace Place UMC now has a larger, more conveniently located office in Bartlett near Memphis, under the wings of Two Sisters Ministry, a 501c3 organization created by Rev. Diane Harrison in 2017. Harrison is Grace Place’s pastor.

Previously Grace Place had its office in limited space at Highland Heights UMC – and before that at Good Shepherd UMC – both in Memphis.

Harrison describes Two Sisters as a kind of “parent” organization for Grace Place with Two Sisters’ mission focus being to train “reentry teams that will work with and assist individuals as they are released (from prison).”  

“Two sisters” is a reference to Diane and her sister, Syd, an enthusiastic supporter of Grace Place who died in 2016. The two were like the scriptural Martha and Mary with Syd being like the more practical, hardworking Martha and Diane more like the single-minded Mary, explained Harrison.

About her vision for Two Sisters Ministry, Harrison said, “It’s so hard to suddenly cope with life on the outside (after a lengthy prison sentence). Much support and help are needed for a successful outcome.”

With a generous financial gift from her brother and sister-in-law, Hunter and Jeannie Harrison (received in honor of Grace Place's tenth anniversary prior to Hunter’s unexpected death in December 2017), Diane located and purchased a circa early 1990s office building in Old Bartlett in November 2017. The address is 2786 Stage Center Drive near Stage and Elmore Roads.

Renovation of the building began in February 2018.

Nearly finished, the building has a welcome area, gift shop, office for Grace Place, office for Harrison, meeting room, kitchen and bathroom.

It’s a place to “settle down, grow and build” Two Sisters and Grace Place UMC, said Harrison. “It provides a face to the public” and a place for new and established supporters to “come and interact and learn.”

Harrison expressed grateful pride in the building, especially the many new and meaningful things it will enable Grace Place and Two Sisters to do.

Individuals, groups and churches now have a place to easily deliver donations for the ministries, purchase crafts made by the women at the prison and easily travel to learn about Grace Place.

Harrison is now inviting any group of 20 people to meet at the Two Sisters building. Two sisters will provide refreshments and a program about its work.

The meeting room is furnished with a large table and chairs rescued from the Memphis Conference’s old Asbury District office, a large flat-screen monitor and WIFI service.

Prison Congregations of America (PCA) held its spring board meeting at Two Sisters. Harrison hopes United Methodist Women Circles and other groups will consider scheduling meetings.

In addition to support from her brother and sister-in-law, Grace Place has many other individual and church supporters. Money earned from outside sales of crafts made by the church prison’s members is earmarked for missions.

Harrison often reminds people that Grace Place is unique as a congregation because it has no tithing members. Incarcerated women have no incomes. Financial gifts help sustain the congregation and are invested with the United Methodist Foundation of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences.

Harrison and her team of dedicated lay and clergy volunteers are in and out of the prison during the week for worship and other activities, but they are not always available to the women.

“We’re trying to empower the women to carry on the ministry 24/7,” said Harrison. The women continue to learn to “be the church for one another.”

Grace Place began life at the Mark Luttrell Correctional Center in Memphis, but relocated to WTRC in 2016 when the prison population was relocated by the Tennessee Department of Correction.

WTRC has capacity for 1,500 women, but the population is currently about 1,000, according to Harrison.

Harrison estimates the number of women served by Grace Place during a typical week to be 150 to 200. They may attend worship in a chapel that seats 80, but also have opportunities for Bible study, a 12-step support group, choir, crochet group, book club, and yoga/aerobics classes.

The collective activities account for eight to ten volunteer contact hours (with the women prisoners) each week.

Many of the women prisoners are trained as group leaders and facilitators.

Grace Place is separate from the work of the prison’s employed chaplain, though there is some overlap in their programs.

The women of Grace Place don’t think of themselves as the recipients of gifts and service, but as true disciples of Christ, stressed Harrison. They give as much as they receive – helping and supporting individuals and ministries inside and outside the prison.

Recently Grace Place outfitted a room at the prison for children who come for overnight visits with their incarcerated mothers.

The specially-designated room was minimally furnished by the prison, but the women of Grace Place took it to a whole new level with a table and chairs, high chair, books, a television, upholstered rocking chair and wall décor, said Harrison.They paid for these items using proceeds from outside sales of their crafts.

In May 2018, Grace Place sponsored a Christian music concert at the prison attended by approximately 500 women prisoners. CLICK HERE to read more about that event.

In August 2017, Grace Place celebrated its tenth anniversary. CLICK HERE to read more about that event.

For more information about Grace Place and Two Sisters, call 901-647-5185 or visit the Grace Place website at www.graceplacemethodist.com.