Members of the United Methodist Church of Mount Vernon and Mount Vernon First Presbyterian Church begun a new ecumenical ministry. Seven volunteers have been vetted, trained and participated in simulations to be prepared.

Called a “Circle of Hope”, the volunteers will meet weekly with an ex-prisoner who has just been released for parole to offer him/her support, inspiration, confidence, ideas for resources, and hope in living a new life without returning to old ways and prison again. Members actually sit in a circle with a lighted candle in the center and begin with some inspirational thoughts. Through a question and answer period, the ex-offender is encouraged and mentored to personally set goals and work out the steps toward a new life. The Circle might last a year or more but usually less and less often.

This group’s first real Circle met for the first time Monday morning, June 27, in the Presbyterian Church community room because the current ex-offender works an evening shift. Most of the time, however, Circles will meet in the evening.

The Circle of Hope process was begun in Mount Vernon through a phone call from a Cedar Rapids lawyer to Pastor Heecheon. Several Circles have been operating in Cedar Rapids with some success, but the leaders have come to realize that there are also prisoners who live in the small towns around Cedar Rapids. Thus, the request to form a Circle in Mount Vernon was suggested. The ex-prisoners served by this Circle will be from surrounding towns such as Anamosa, Springville, Mechanicsville, Stanwood, Solon, and of course, Mount Vernon and Lisbon.

Circle volunteers at this time include Bob Meeker, Ro Foege, Kay Graber, Jen Hoffman, Kevin Woods, Bill Bowden, and Pastor Lori Wunder.   Since people’s schedules are so busy, more volunteers are needed to assure that there is always a healthy number of persons present. It is best to have 5-7 persons in the Circle, including the ex-prisoner.

     If this kind of ministry speaks to you, please contact one of the persons listed above. They can provide more information about this opportunity to reach out with compassion, justice and Christian love.