My name is Curt Anderson. I was the Senior Minister of First Congregational UCC in Madison for 12 years, until I retired this last summer. A few weeks ago, I became a member of Plymouth UCC in absentia. (My wife and I had a long-standing commitment to take grandchildren to see a play in Madison that day.)
Several years ago, First Cong Madison started a prison ministry program; and on a few occasions, I had a chance to go to a prison and talk to prison inmates who had participated in one of the programs the church ran there. I found those conversations to be very enlightening. Some of these men (so far the programming has been mostly for men) had done horrible things in their lives to cause them to be incarcerated; yet they were using that time to come to terms with what they had done, to make amends in whatever ways they could, and to change the kind of people they were. Talking with them was fascinating.
About 5 years ago, when the recession started, First Cong went from having 1 – 2 people a week call or come in asking for help to having 2 – 3 people a day make that request. Rather than simply saying “yes” or “no” to them, I started taking time to talk to them. I found out as much as I could about social services in Madison so I could direct them to whatever help was available. I helped them with funds from the church whenever I could. But I also simply listened to them and encouraged them to share with me whatever they wanted to share. A few people started to come to see me even when they weren’t directly asking for help. I hope and I believe these conversations were meaningful to the people who came to the church. They were certainly meaningful to me. I grew in my ability to understand and relate to people whose circumstances were very different from mine.
A few years ago, I could not have imagined myself saying this; but as I approached retirement earlier this spring, I began to believe that I was now being called to visit inmates in Wisconsin prisons. I have settled pretty well into retirement these last few months. I hope to have a meeting soon with people in the Department of Corrections to see if I will be able to do this pastoral visitation.
Relating to people who were very different from me came to be an important part of my life in the last few years. I hope to continue doing that even though I am now retired.