New chaplain sees High Point Jail Ministry as higher calling
For most individuals, prison is pretty low on their list of places they want to spend time.
For the Rev. Gene Williams, though, it’s a higher calling.
Williams, who calls himself Chaplain Gene, has been named the new chaplain and executive director of the High Point Jail Ministry, replacing retiring chaplain Joyce Setchfield.
“This is basically all I’ve done for the last 30 years, working with inmates and their families from the re-entry side,” Williams said. “I’ve worked with Prison Fellowship, as well. This is where God is calling me to open up this new chapter in my life, to work on the inside. I’ve done inside work before, but not as a chaplain.”
Williams doesn’t officially come on board until early June, but he’s already been in High Point training with Setchfield, whose last day on the job was Thursday.
Williams, 55, comes to High Point from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where he served as president and chief executive officer of TRAILS Ministries, a faith-based, nonprofit organization he co-founded in 1988. Based on a Prison Fellowship program, TRAILS worked with incarcerated individuals to help with their transition from prison to the outside world.
“What I’ve seen across the country is the trauma that incarceration has on families,” he said, “and research has shown that when an inmate has connections with families or a clergy member, they’re less likely to reoffend.”
Now, Williams looks forward to sharing his heart with the incarcerated in High Point, just as he did in Pennsylvania.
“The way I look at it, I am the pastor and this is my new congregation,” he said. “High Point Detention Center is my new flock.”
In the High Point Jail Ministry, Williams takes over a program with a strong foundation. The ministry provides inmates with such programming opportunities as worship services and Bible studies; weekly visitation; life enrichment classes; Celebrate Recovery seminars for inmates struggling with recovery issues; a library of nearly a thousand Christian books; and anger management seminars, among others.
“Chaplain Brice laid a great foundation, and I was able to take that foundation and build upon it,” Setchfield said, referring to George Brice, who served as chaplain before her. “We are fully programmed now, and I see Chaplain Gene taking this ministry to a different place, but wherever God leads him, he will bless it.”
Setchfield, 69, spent her last day on the job Thursday. She had worked with Brice for a couple of years before taking over as chaplain and executive director seven years ago.
“I never envisioned myself inside a jail or prison for any reason,” she said, “but I came to help George for the first time, and when I went out on the female floor, it was like God said, ‘OK, Joyce, these people are just like you. They could be your sister, they could be your niece, they could be your child.’ It was kind of an eye-opening experience. With God’s help, it has been a real blessing to me, but I think it’s also been a blessing to the inmates and to the volunteers I’ve worked with over the years.”
Setchfield and her husband, John, plans to do some traveling, mission work, and volunteering in the community.
“I want to work with the disenfranchised people in the community — the poor, those who’ve been in prison or jail, those who have been abused,” she said. “That’s where my heart is — helping them know there is a better life and how they can have it.”
Setchfield leaves the jail ministry with no regrets.
“I’ve met a lot of wonderful people I might not have met anywhere else,” she said. “It’s been my passion for seven years, but it’s time to let it go to someone else.”
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