Jesus the Liberator Seminary … a brief timeline

1994 – A letter from the Buffalo Police Commissioner – an effort to link churches with community policing efforts

1995 – Establishment of a 501c3 organization

1995 – 1999 – Fundraising & Program Development

  • An effort to get a VESID grant from the State of NY (Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities) – people were referred through VESID and through outreach –
  • The organization’s goal was to provide theological education to poor people and to create a cadre of “para-clergy’ – classes were offered at Trinity Church in Buffalo, NY
  • A series of program and grant proposals – A program to train clergy to work with communities on crime prevention – “Crime, Religion and the Urban Geography of Crime” – the program included an effort to connect suburban churches with urban churches to provide support and resources
  • “Institute of Public Ministry”, “Buffalo Faith-Based Economic Development Resource Center” & “Minority Churches Empowering Program”, “ Race & Justice”, a community foundation grant program for a youth program, “Theological Education for Prisoners”, “Theological Education for Women Prisoners” a Television Series and an effort to build a library.
  • An effort to build coalitions between churches and welfare reform efforts,
  • An effort to create a program to train chaplains, and to support minority women pastors

2000 – 2010

  • Death Row Poetry – organizers received unsolicited poems from an inmate in Illinois and the program shifted its focus to a comprehensive, prison correspondence program with an individualized course of study. The shift to correspondence was an evolution of the Theological Education for Prisoners Program which would then become ‘Prison Theology.’
  • Dr. Gilbert donated his library to the organization and the books were all donated to inmates and chaplains as an extension of the correspondence program.
  • Publications – through correspondence between clergy, activists and students, a “prison theology” began to form, and the organization produced articles and books on the topic.
  • Organization starts to award diplomas and certificates.
  • In 2007, the organization moved from Trinity Church to Lafayette Avenue, Presbyterian Church and saw the departure of Hugh Pratt, the organization’s founder. Jesus the Liberator entered its next incarnation.
  • Through through the dedicated connections between the organization and chaplains at dozens of prison facilities across numerous states, a number of inmates engaged in individualized theological education, leading to a new course entitled ‘Prison Theology.’ This course resonated most deeply at Groveland Correctional Facility in New York State, where students who graduated from our correspondence helped create an on-site theology class. This was then formed and collaboratively taught by Chaplain Dr. Juan Carmona, inmates at that facility and members from our organization, who also provided resources and references. Fluvanna Correctional Facility for Women, in Virginia, led by Rev. Lynn Litchfield, also created a dynamic environment which led to many inmate students, some of whom were published in outside journals as well as within our own publication.

Jesus the Liberator Seminary Today

  • Dr. Gilbert donated his library to the organization and over 1,500 books were distributed to individuals and prison chaplains.
  • Jesus the Liberator is currently promoting three books published by the organization.
  • There is an archive of the material collected over the past 25 years, and we have increased our online presence and outreach.