Matthew 25:36 — I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
Youth from the First Church in Ipswich, UCC, in Massachusetts, have done more than visit a man in prison. They have advocated for his release.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the youth began writing to prisoners across the country. The project began as a way to honor the Matthew 25 passage. They saw prisoners as some of the most vulnerable to the virus and began writing to them to "be close to Christ" as Ipswich Pastor the Reverend Rebecca Pugh puts it.
One prisoner, a Native American named Leonard Peltier, wrote letters back so often that the church now has a binder of his letters on the prayer table at the church. The youth had studied Leonard's story in school and learned of the injustice of his incarceration. Leonard has been in prison for more than 40 years for a crime he did not commit. The International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee is a group advocating to free Leonard. This group asked the Ipswich church if they would be willing to help the effort.
Twenty-four youth, along with 2 divinity school students and several mothers at the church, worked on a video to share Leonard's story and call for his release. The video shows youth from the church sharing Leonard's story, voicing their support and calling for his release.
Recently, Leonard contracted the Covid-19 virus, making the call for his release more urgent than ever. His grandchildren on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota are hoping he will be released to their care.
"The impact of this work on our congregation has been huge," said Rev. Pugh. "Youth have joined the youth group to help. Younger children have asked if they can be part of a second filming. Members of the church who are Indigenous are telling their own stories about it. The voice of Jesus is strong, speaking out of Scripture, calling for us to be creative and fearless as we work for freedom."
For more information about the Free Leonard Peltier campaign, please visit https://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/
Click the image below to view the Ipswich video:
You may reprint this story by including the following line in your article: Reprinted with permission from Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, Spotlight
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Drew Page is the Media and Data Manager for the Southern New England Conference, and a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer as a Dean at Silver...