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Good News Jail
State Correctional Facility
The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County
"We are currently over $15,000 behind budget," said Pastor Timothy W. Sawyer of Good News Jail & Prison Ministry."That's just for the first six months of this year." The total annual budget for the Chaplaincy program is $65,000. Even before he took over as chaplain last year, Sawyer said the ministry would need help from the community in three ways - by supporting it in prayer, by volunteering time and by contributing money.The volunteers were needed because Sawyer planned to institute more programs at the jail. This week he said that volunteers have stepped forward to help the ministry and programs are flourishing.In May and June alone, 55 church services and 25 Bible classes were conducted at the facility, Sawyer said.Attending those services were 291 inmates, and attending the studies were 245.During that time 27 inmates were counseled one-on-one, there were 13 professions of faith and 291 inmates rededicated their lives to Christ. "So as you can see, the ministry is working," he said.Sawyer added that the ministry will enter into a partnership with Prison Fellowship Ministries this fall in which congregations will get training on how to mentor children of inmates.He said two churches are already interested. Despite the volunteer support and the abundance of services and programs, financial support has not kept pace.Good News accepts no government funding so support must come from individuals, businesses, community organizations and churches. That isn't happening, said Sawyer, who has been chaplain at the county jail since April 1, 2003. "As far as churches getting involved, that has been very slow.We really need the support of the local churches," Sawyer said."We've been here a year and a half now.We have not seen the support that we should be seeing." If the ministry is unable to raise the money to support a full-time chaplain, the first thing Good News would be to make Sawyer a part-time chaplain.Were that to happen, he said, he would not be able to continue as chaplain in Washington. Sawyer is hoping that members of the church community will begin a turnaround by helping to make this year's annual fund-raising banquet a success."We have a very exciting speaker this year," Sawyer said."I'm in the process of reading his book.It's riveting." According to a letter he sent to churches and potential advertisers, 285 people attended last year's banquet and Sawyer is hoping that many more will attend this year.However, he admits that ticket sales so far have been slow. "We're hoping to clear $10,000," he said of the banquet," but we're not getting the response as far as registrations for the banquet.We're way off even from last year." The cost to attend the banquet is $30 per person.Those who want to attend need only to call 724-229-5939 and leave their name and the number of people who will be attending. For the first time, the ministry will also produce a program book for banquet.Sawyer said the ministry is looking for a corporate sponsor which would contribute $1,000, which would entitle the sponsor to an ad on the inside front cover of the program and the ability to place favors at the banquet.The deadline for getting an ad in the program book is Sept. 3.Advertisers who would like to be included in the program should call 724-222-8895. In addition, Sawyer is also looking for businesses to donate gift certificates that the ministry could give away as door prizes.Such businesses will receive recognition at the banquet, he said.Sawyer said he is not sure why there has not been a greater response from the churches.He said promotional letters were sent out this year, just as they were last year. "We've had lots of words but no action," he said.
According to Pastor Timothy Sawyer, who served as chaplain there since April 1, 2003, Good News Jail & Prison Ministry let him know Dec. 1 that it was shutting down the ministry immediately.Volunteers will continue to minister at the jail, however, and the programming will not be affected, he said."I am totally amazed that they have made this decision and so are a lot of other people, including pastors that I have talked to and the administration at the jail," Sawyer said in a phone interview this week."Inmates were very upset."The administration at the jail was totally behind this ministry and gave 110 percent support," he said.Sawyer said the organization shut down the program because of lack of funding.Good News gets no government funding but is supported entirely by the communities where it has chaplaincy programs.In August, Sawyer said that the ministry was running about $15,000 behind its $60,000 annual budget.Unless support increased, he said then, Good News would make the chaplaincy a part-time position, which would force him to resign.Although Sawyer also pastors a small church, it does not pay enough to support his family, he said.A Sept. 10 fundraising banquet for the ministry was "very poorly attended," he said.But he added that he was "starting to make headway" with some churches with promises for support for next year.Churches and individuals had pledged $20,000 for the coming year, but Good News told him that he had to have another $27,000 of commitments in place, he said."Spiritually we were thriving," Sawyer said."I had plenty of volunteers, Sunday services were going full speed and classes on all of the units.We were doing great."He said the ministry was about to begin a joint program with Prison Fellowship Ministries that would have churches mentoring the children of inmates at the jail.Before becoming chaplain in Washington County, Sawyer was Protestant chaplain at the State Correctional Facility in Somerset.He said he had applied for his former position in Somerset in case Good News made the Washington County chaplaincy a part-time position.In November, the Richmond, Va.-based ministry was scheduled to send its ministry development team to Washington County to offer some help, but that visit was canceled.Sawyer believes it was because Good News interpreted his applying for the Somerset position as a lack of commitment to the Washington County program."A month ago I was told by the vice president of ministry for Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, Leroy Davis, that the headquarters in Richmond was standing behind the local ministry in Washington County and me as the chaplain and that there was no plan to either put me on a part-time status or to close the ministry," Sawyer said.Sawyer said he is now looking for another job.Meanwhile, he said, Good News is going to send its ministry development team to the jail in mid-January to do an evaluation."I'm sorry not just for myself but I'm sorry for the inmates that I ministered to and even some of the staff that I had the chance to minister to," Sawyer said.
Board of Directors
Pastor Timothy W. Sawyer, Chaplain
Chaplain Timothy Sawyer from Amedisys Hospice will officiate.