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“Freedom on the Inside” King Street Church Sheds Light on Incarceration, Publishes Recipes and Reflections of Inmates

Keila Sullivan, intern with King Street Church, is pictured with a unique publication that will help raise funds for a special community outreach. Photo courtesy of Anna Rawls Photography.

By Sherrie Norris

King Street Church of Boone might not represent your typical brick and mortar building, but it has a deep love and concern for humanity and is constantly looking for ways to show God’s love to others.

Described as “a church that’s always on the move, following Christ where He leads,” King Street Church is an outreach of Boone United Methodist Church and is committed to forming a Christian community with folks who may have never experienced it before.

In addition to its 6:30 p.m. Sunday gatherings at 3rd Place in downtown Boone for dinner and a discussion about faith, Monday nights at the Hospitality House, and weekday morning devotions at the Hatchet Coffee Shop, King Street Church spends Wednesday mornings at the Watauga County Detention Center to study scripture with those awaiting their court dates or transfers.

Meaningful relationships have formed from each of these opportunities, said KSC Pastor Luke Edwards, but none are any more important than those with the inmates at the local jail, as well those made through the BUMC/inmate pen pal outreach.

According to Edwards, in the past year, 103 men and women were released from prison into Watauga County. “Many of these neighbors face homelessness, crippling debt, and the same environments that contributed to their incarceration,” he described. “From our inception in 2013, King Street Church has been a place of belonging for our neighbors experiencing incarceration and re-entry. Our desire is for everyone being released into our community to find a path that leads to life.”

With that in mind, Edwards is pleased to announce that his church has embarked upon a couple of unique fundraisers to help pave the way for these new beginnings.

King Street Church is partnering with Hatchet Coffee Shop and the WeCan Fund at the Hospitality House to provide financial assistance for initial expenses, “like rent and utilities upon re-entry,” Edwards explained. “Every bag of Second Chance Blend purchased (from Hatchet) helps support these efforts. The Second Chance blend combines single origin coffee from Guatemala and Ethiopia for a medium/light blend with notes of Cacao Nibs and Strawberry.”

Just last week, Edwards introduced yet another fundraising effort in the form of a new publication, “Freedom on the Inside,” which includes recipes, thoughts, poems and devotions submitted by incarcerated individuals, with whom the church has connected, locally, from across the state and Tennessee. “To those who have said King Street Church wasn’t a real church, we’ve proven you wrong,” Edwards said with a chuckle. “We now have a church cookbook.” It’s thanks, in large part, Edwards said, to church intern, Keila Sullivan, who took an idea, earlier conceived, and ran with it.

“Prison recipes are not a new concept for me, due to the fact that my husband is incarcerated in Tennessee,” said Sullivan. “We have often spoken about concoctions he has made and how great of a cook he is. It felt natural to put this book together.”

Sullivan said she wasn’t “really sure” how many inmates would respond to the idea, if any. “I went through the pen pal list of inmates we have (at the church) and sent a flyer requesting recipes, inspirational stories — anything they wanted to (send in) to assist those being released. I also sent out a letter to the illustrator who has a heart and great talent for drawing and giving back to Boone UMC. His name is Joe and the introduction is his story.”

The men who responded and submitted entries are truly special in various ways, Sullivan said. “And I am grateful that they were willing to share their hearts to total strangers.”

In addition to her desire to see the project to completion, and her personal attention to detail, Sullivan enlisted the help of her “two amazing daughters,” she described, who put as many hours into the project as did she, as well as her co-intern, Anna Dudley, “who has given me a lot of support and time working toward the book, as well.”

It is her hope, Sullivan said, that the project will grow for future interns — “And maybe someday it will be the size of a novel!”

Referring to the BUMC-hosted pen pal program that has come full circle, Sullivan reminds readers that these men need encouragement and correspondence, especially during the holidays. “This time of year is so incredibly hard for prisoners, as you can imagine,” she said. “ A letter, a simple letter, has a great ability to lift someone’s spirit so high in a dark time and place.”

And, Sullivan added, “These men needed to have their voices heard — even if it is through silly or heartfelt recipes.”

Sullivan said she shares the hope with KSC that through reading the cookbook, and focusing on the individuals behind the contributions — “our incarcerated friends” — that folks in the community will see the human side of these men that society often tries to forget. “God considers each of these men his beloved child and we believe that no one is beyond redemption.”Edwards recalled when first starting King Street Church, it was the hope of all involved “to form community with our neighbors on the margins of our community,” he described. “Early on, we began to host a bible study in the men’s pods at the Watauga County Jail.”

Around the same time, he clearly remembers Daniel Cook who began attending King Street Church at the Sunday night gathering downtown. “Daniel shared his story with us about incarceration — and the difficulty of coming back to Boone afterwards. This spurred in our little faith community a passion for our neighbors involved in incarceration and those who were recently released.” And, it planted the seed for the church cookbook.

Ever since, Edwards added, “We’ve connected with, welcomed and advocated for these brothers and sisters.”

Currently, King Street Church hosts five weekly gatherings around Boone, Edwards said. In addition to the aforementioned, the church hosts King Street Church Poets Society at 4 p.m. in the conference room at Boone UMC on the first and third Thursday of each month.

“In all of our gatherings, we desire to connect with our neighbors who are not connected to a church. We have folks from all walks of life — from various places in their faith journeys — and even folks from different faiths. Our hope is to receive people, not to fix them. We strive to be a community without judgment and one that embraces the messiness of living in community with one another.”

In reference to her work with King Street Church, Sullivan said. “ I have never had the honor of working with people who make a real difference — and most of all stay humble. I am so grateful for Pastor Luke Edwards. Words are never enough.”

All proceeds from the cookbook sales and all profits from the coffee sales go to the WeCan fund. If you would like to purchase a cookbook or bag of coffee, or make a donation, you may call (828) 264-6090 or drop by the Boone UMC office at 471 New Market Blvd. in Boone. The coffee may also be purchased at Hatchet Coffee Shop at 200 Den Mac Drive, off Bamboo Road, in Boone.

Anyone interested in writing to an inmate through the church’s pen pal program may contact the pastor at luke@kscboone.org

For more information, visit the church website at www.kscboone.org or email Edwards at the above address.