Compiled in 2020-2021 to accompany MC USA curriculum: Defund the Police? An Abolition Curriculum
We would like to help facilitate networks across Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) for sharing resources, stories, strategies. A place where we can find one another and support one another in the ongoing action of abolition that will flow from our collective study of abolition.
Our curriculum explores the full and broad landscape of policing & prisons, following the brilliant work of Ruth Wilson Gilmore and her concept of ‘carceral geography.’ Each area of action submitted by a congregation will be coded to fit within these 5 representative ‘places’ in the landscape of policing, which also correlate to the curriculum’s learning sessions:
- [A] Jails, Prisons, Detention Centers
- [B] Police Stations, Courts
- [C] Policing Our Children: School Resource Officers (SROs), School-to-Prison pipeline
- [D] Police and the Streets: Homelessness, Sex Work
- [E] City Hall, Political Change, Revolution
- We have also added a [W] designation for worship and liturgical resources, theological study, and/or organizing within the church.
Reba Place Church, Evanston, Illinois
Contact: Charlotte Lehman, firstname.lastname@example.org
- [A] We have had a Family Support ministry for many years now, which builds community and gives practical support to a number of families who have one or more members incarcerated. This loving group sponsors group activities like a fall apple-picking excursion, regular birthday celebrations, and the annual Christmas party. The group organizes our whole congregation to be part of making sure every child and parent has gifts that are meaningful to them. The group also does a back-to-school support effort to make sure all the kids have their needed school supplies, and other essentials. Some of the supported families are members of our church, and some are not.
- [A] Two couples in the church are regular correspondents with a man incarcerated a few hours away from us. They not only write to this brother, but have made great efforts to help his son to visit him. There are many steps to getting permission from all the necessary parties, and the distance to the jail is also a hinderance.
- [W] We had a very well attended book study group on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, which led to a dinner and presentation to more than 70 people in the congregation to report on what the group had learned.
- [W] We developed and sponsored the For Justice in the U.S. Criminal Legal System resolution which, if affirmed by the CLC in March, will be put before MC USA congregational delegates, whenever the Executive Board decides it’s safe to have a face-to-face delegate gathering! You’ve probably heard that that is not going to happen this July. The process of developing this resolution was mostly the work of a few, but included education for the whole congregation, and ultimately a unanimous vote to sponsor it.
- [B] Our local Alderwoman (elected member of Evanston City Council for our neighborhood) is a strong, black, female leader who has organized opportunities (online, during COVID even!) to talk about restorative justice in our community and what that would look like! Our pastor attended some of these meetings, and we expect to pursue this further, especially after COVID restrictions are removed.
- [C] Maybe 5 or 6 years ago, our pastor participated in a Restorative Justice circle for some youth that were part of our congregation then, who had gotten into some trouble throwing stones at windows. This program was actually an alternative route provided through our police department, and to which cases could be routed if the victim and offender agreed. The facilitator did a good job, and it was a good experience for the boys and for the pastor, and we think, for the woman whose windows were cracked, though we have not had further contact with her, unfortunately.
Germantown Mennonite Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Contact: John Bergen, email@example.com
- [A] The most obvious and visible piece is our providing sanctuary to Carmela Apollonia Hernandez and her four children. She is approaching two years at our church and three in total in sanctuary. We understand and articulate sanctuary as visionary work imagining a world without borders or detention centers. We continue to work for a world where everyone can live without fear of detention or deportation.
- [B] We lift up the language of abolishing police and prisons in our sermons and worship. We have yet to have a congregation-wide conversation about this as a shared value, and we do continue to discuss and argue about what this means for us as followers of Jesus.
- [E] Our pastor gives a lot of time to the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration, a statewide movement dedicated to ending life sentences and bringing everyone home from prison. The relationships with current and formerly-incarcerated people through that organizing have yielded a number of church projects. Church members showed up to actions calling for prisoners to be released because of COVID, and to protests calling for police abolition. We have signed statements supporting an end to life sentences. We have fundraised thousands of dollars for local abolitionist groups like the Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project and Project SAFE. We gave our annual Peace Award to Felix Rosado, an incarcerated leader and restorative justice practitioner, and he preached a sermon to us over the phone. When he was up for commutation this past September, we mobilized to send postcards and make phone calls calling for his release. He was denied, and in that denial many church members saw the hypocrisy of the prison system revealed.
Eugene Mennonite Church, Eugene, Oregon
Contact: Steve Kimes, firstname.lastname@example.org
- [D] Our congregation in Eugene Oregon is providing services and keeping track of homeless camps. We provide laundry services, and also keep track when a camp is tagged to be swept. We also send letters to the city and county, requesting a reduction of police contact and sweeps with homeless folks.
First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Contact: Michael Crosby, email@example.com
- [C] [D] Our church’s Racial Justice Working Group started several years ago by advocating for restorative practice in the community (including the fight against SRO’s in local schools) and joining local campaigns to end housing discrimination against returning citizens. We had a partial victory in the housing struggle this year — the local Housing Authority ended a decades long policy of excluding formerly incarcerated people from their services.
- [A] Some of us helped establish a local bailout fund and showed up at a lot of county board meetings to fight proposals for a new jail.
- [A] Many in the congregation read The New Jim Crow in an adult Sunday School class 4 years ago. We support and partner with First Followers, a re-entry program run by and for formerly incarcerated folks. Just last week First Followers asked us to use the side of the church building for a large banner encouraging formerly incarcerated people to vote and showing resources for doing so. First Followers co-founder James Kilgore is an international force for abolition.
- [A] Short story: The church owns an apartment building adjacent to our building, and a couple years ago we explored with James & First Followers using it for re-entry housing. It turned out not to be good for that, and First Followers acquired a few houses to start their program instead. We give annually out of our accumulating “apartment building equity” in support of their housing program — as a gesture towards correcting the inequitable housing situation, where landlords like our church gain wealth while formerly incarcerated people cannot find a safe and affordable place to rent.
- [E] Through the local NAACP chapter, several members have recently been working to hold local police departments accountable to the NAACP’s 10 Shared Principles of policing (more reformist than abolitionist).
- [W] Convened a small study group on “Abolition Theology.” Read Alex Vitale’s The End of Policing alongside various expressions of abolitionist imagination.
Columbus Mennonite Church, Columbus, Ohio
Contact: Joel Miller, firstname.lastname@example.org
- [E] Pastor is a part of Faith in Public Life, which convenes clergy and non profit org leaders. One of the focus areas right now is with defund. The current ask to the mayor is no new funding of Columbus police for 2021, with longer term goals of divest / reinvest.
- [A] One of our Columbus Menno members, Ryan Schellenberg, teaches New Testament at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. He’s a Paul scholar and focuses on how Paul’s prison writings intersect with contemporary mass incarceration matters. Good stuff!
- [D] Another member, Yvonne Zimmerman, teaches ethics at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. Her work intersects with all this in a number of ways, including expertise in advocacy related to sex work.
- [W] Another member made this beautiful 5-minute film which has a CMC member singing “There is a time…” with footage of all the artwork in downtown Columbus at the height of Black Lives Matter actions following the murder of George Floyd.
Shalom Mennonite Fellowship, Tucson, Arizona
Contact: Carol Rose, email@example.com
- [W] Early in the summer there were times of focused prayer and of reflection during worship related to the criminal injustice system and Black lives.
- [E] late in the summer we did a 4 week worship series this summer “Letters from Prison” that held side by side Philippians, Dr. Rev. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail and current voices from the movement for racial justice including specific asks from the Movement for Black Lives and others in the current racial justice movement. Action suggestions for the congregation have included: local defund the police efforts (Tucson city council), one had to do with supporting the legislation for dismantling policing presented by the Movement for Black Lives, one had to do with Immigrant detention, and another had to do with defending voting rights.
- [A] We held up the local bail fund organized by BLM Tucson for donations.
- [C] Focused reflections on Black Lives Matter with the congregations’ youth (who are all recent black Congolese immigrants) with support from a pastor and a young adult Congolese immigrant who has been here longer.
- [A] We are the fiscal sponsor and are deeply involved with the work of the Casa Mariposa Visitation Group that supports immigrants in detention.
- [W] We have three small groups of white folk this summer / fall doing antiracist reflection work together.
Shalom Community Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Shalom works at this largely through a handful of congregants’ engagement and doesn’t have a formal system of support. However, Shalom has, in the last two years:
- [C] provided gift baskets for & written letters to youth in the county’s detention center
- [A] [E] has had one very active congregant, a University of Michigan faculty member, who is involved in the student-run Prison Birth Project and the Michigan Prison Doula Initiative, has been active in advancing legislation in the state to enforce humane conditions for women giving birth, and invited congregational participation in a rally at the nearby women’s prison advocating for this legislation
- [B] Shalom was a founding congregation of the Friends of Restorative Justice of Washtenaw County (https://www.friendsofrestorativejustice.org/). FORJ has been the voice for more restorative justice options in the Criminal Justice system in Washtenaw County and has conducted VOC trainings, been active in education about the power or the Prosecutor’s Office, and is now advocating for a Restorative Justice Center in the County.
- [B] Growing out of these involvements, Trevor Bechtel is now the Project Lead for the Prosecutor Transparency Project in Washtenaw County, which will respond to racial inequity in the system, and create a prosecutor’s dashboard.
Hyattsville Mennonite Church, Hyattsville Maryland
Contact: Cynthia Lapp, firstname.lastname@example.org
- [A] [B] At Hyattsville Mennonite the “racial justice” group has invited the congregation to support Life After Release (LAR), a local group headed up by black women who have been in the system. LAR supports families and individuals with food mutual aid; we help by sending food and groceries twice a month. We now have three people who are doing court watch; trained by LAR the watchers sit in the courtroom (during the pandemic, on the phone) and take notes about the hearings and trials. The courts know they are under observation and it seems to be having some effect. We took an offering for LAR during advent and Christmas.
- [C] Several members of the “racial Justice” group are involved with the local campaign to remove SROs from schools.
- [B] Pastor is a community chaplain with the local police department. The chaplains and department are in the process of creating a crisis response team to respond to mental health calls with the police.
- [A] We continue our support for immigrants, trying to get them released from detention and preventing detention in the first place. This involves both policy and personal involvement. We are currently supporting a family seeking asylum. We are building relationships with a local congregation that is predominantly Central American. All this work is through our local affiliate of Faith in Action.
- [D] We supply lunches each month to the local Day Center for unhoused neighbors.
- [F] We had a twelve week adult education series on whiteness and white supremacy in fall of 2020. Following up with a 12 week session in 2021 on abolition of police and prisons.
First Mennonite Church, San Francisco, California
- [E] I would say the main thing our church has been doing is showing up for Black Lives Matter actions organized by Black leadership.
- [D] We’ve got some folks heavily involved in a faith-based community organizing group called Faith in Action — that group has been mostly focussed on housing justice issues.
- [W] Organizing the organizations that participated in the “big booth” of intersectional justice at our last MCUSA convention to issue a police abolition statement.
Peace Mennonite Church, Lawrence, Kansas
Contact: Joanna Harader, email@example.com
- [A] [E] We participate in a local interfaith justice organization that has alternatives to incarceration as a priority. Our pastor has been a leader in that movement which has successfully stopped a planned expansion of the local jail and continues to work toward decarceration.
- [C] This same justice organization has another priority of restorative justice in schools, and several people in our congregation have been involved with this effort as well.
- [W] We spent some time studying issues around defunding police and prison abolition during our weekly Peace Pursuits gathering.
Seattle Mennonite Church, Seattle, Washington
Contact: Megan Ramer, firstname.lastname@example.org
- [A] [C] No New Youth Jail (NNYJ) collective, sustained organizing in Seattle
- [E] participation with European Dissent and interfaith White clergy organizing in accountability to Black-led organizers, including NNYJ, Black Prisoners Caucus, etc.
- [A] Abolition Toolkit small group(s) and monthly SMC abolition movie nights with discussion, sharing local resources, action steps, fund-shifting
- [D] Community with neighbors living on the streets and decades of advocacy, providing and linking with services, community organizing to end homelessness
- [A] Immigration Ministry Team, action steps and partnering with La Resistencia at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, in relationship with a local asylum seeker we came to know through Shalom Mennonite Fellowship in Tucson AZ, including providing pro bono legal representation