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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

LLNL Pastor

The following story was posted on LLNL's daily NewsLine site. It's stirring up quite a bit of controversy (more comments than I've  seen in over a decade at LLNL). So far there's been zero feedback from Lab management. I'm wondering what the outside community might think about this posting.

Up to 200 inmates gather on Sundays to attend church services at a medium-security state prison located in the picturesque foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. One of their preachers at the Sierra Conservation Center (SCC) near Jamestown is not your typical prison pastor.

His name is Owen Alford and he happens to work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Alford, a senior engineering associate in the National Security Engineering Division, is passionate about two things: engineering and his Christian faith. So when he had the opportunity 15 years ago to share his faith with prisoners he believed could benefit from it, he embraced the challenge.

"Engineering types typically look for and enjoy solving the most difficult problems," said Alford, 59, a Lab veteran whose career began in 1980. "Ministering in prison is a difficult problem. Helping men come to faith and enabling them to reenter society better equipped to meet their personal challenges are all worthwhile and rewarding endeavors."

His journey to become a volunteer prison pastor began when a Florida church that received letters from SCC inmates seeking volunteer pastors to lead services and teach Sunday school contacted Alford's church in Pleasanton, the Christ Bible Church. Churches in the SCC region decided not to participate in the program, so they contacted the Florida church, which offered online Bible study courses, as a last resort.

The Florida church's pastor knew Alford's pastor, so the opportunity blossomed. Christ Bible Church - a congregation of 75 members -- had never done anything like that before, but Alford and his pastor knew it was important to help the inmates.

Alford and his pastor - who now preaches at San Quentin State Prison - became volunteer ministers who assisted the prison chaplain with services and Sunday school. In the beginning, Alford would go to SCC twice a month, driving an hour from his home in Tracy to the prison, which sits in a bucolic region between Oakdale and Yosemite National Park. He now goes once a month.

Whatismyrealname said:

His prison congregation and Sunday school students -- dressed in their inmate jumpsuits -- have included murderers, rapists, robbers, thieves, drug dealers and other offenders. The high-risk offenders, such as the murderers and rapists, have since been transferred to other prisons.

Some inmates were professing Christians before their incarceration, while other convicts became Christians while serving time. A majority are genuinely interested in Sunday services. But a handful also attends church to earn points for good behavior in an effort to receive special privileges.

Since these men worship in a state penitentiary, up to 10 armed guards are close by and ready to enter the prison chapel's doors if there's a problem that causes a preacher to push the alarm. Fortunately for Alford, there have never been any major behavioral issues. 

Tall and fit, the bearded Alford commands attention when he steps on the pulpit in the stained glass chapel to begin his 45-minute sermons after an inmate band plays Christian songs.

"Inmates can ethically and morally live in this world, despite being where they are at," Alford said. "If someone has committed a serious crime, they can still find forgiveness through their faith."

Asked if he has contributed to changing the inmates' lives, Alford said yes, but added that the biggest change occurs when the inmates embrace and practice the teachings of their religion themselves. He believes his biggest contribution is to help inmates develop their faith.

"They want to become better people through their faith," Alford said. "And it's changing their hearts."

The feedback he receives is always positive and the inmates are thankful. Prison staff is appreciative too - so much so that they eventually gave Alford a primetime spot for his Sunday services: 10 a.m.

At the end of the day, Alford doesn't mind spending his Sundays in prison.

"I appreciate the opportunity to share my faith with an audience I wouldn't have guessed in my wildest dreams I would be sharing with," he said. "When they leave prison, the inmates want to be the typical American who is not trouble with the law. They also want to get jobs and reconcile with their families."


Anonymous said...

Wow that is very controversial. Sounds like a very nice man trying to do something good on his own time. Good for him.

Anonymous said...

What's controversial about it is the endorsement of religion.

Anonymous said...

Those who see it as an endorsement of religion are stretching. Bigots by their very nature will find all types of arguments to justify their view and spew their fear driven hatred. Agitated Agitators will agitate.

Anonymous said...

I don't see any endorsement of religion here, it's just an article about the outside interests of one employee. Could just as easily have been about some employee who happens to raise rescue kittens in her spare time.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that highlighting one employee's manner of community service is a Laboratory endorsement, though I can see how people can perceive a faint sliver. Not enough to excite me. I'll let the legal experts wrangle that one.

I don't share an identical ethical framework with Mr. Alford, yet I certainly acknowledge his good intentions and extensive effort. The people who choose to hear him speak go voluntarily and are reported to be grateful for him sharing his time. He's walking his talk, so a tip of the hat to the gentleman.

Anonymous said...

Controversy? LOL! Yeah, from one malcontent that is well known for having too much free time. Two or three others chimes in that they did not think that it was right but for the most part comments were positive.

Management did respond.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the article was just showing the good things an employee does on his spare time.
I also made a neutral comment on the Lab site acknowledging a good citizen he is.
BUT trying to stay neutral here
I do have to say that part of this is some of the wrongs Christianity (I am one) did in at times in the past.
BUT the second part of this is why does the name of Jesus bring such reaction as compared to any other religion.
This is an important point. When I say Jesus why do some people "wig out"? WHY?
I think part of the answer is that Jesus strikes a nerve in all of us (as He should) and I think He is the most well known figure in history.
The reason He strikes a nerve inside even the most ardent intellectual is because He is the real deal.
I personally do not like churches (though I attend one sometimes)but I believe and love God with all my heart, just do not like churches:)

Back to the article,
Owen represents Jesus here on earth (no question about that) but the reason for the controversy over such a benign article is because of who Jesus really is.

Anonymous said...

I don't see an endorsement of religion here. I see an article about a man reaching out to those in need and sharing his faith and hope with them. I think it adds a human face to the Lab and demonstrates the wonderful diversity of employees that work there.

Anonymous said...

...the reason for the controversy over such a benign article is because of who Jesus really is.

August 21, 2014 at 9:24 AM

I think it is more because of the sanctimonious and flatulent dribble that drools out of the mouths of so many "christians", who think they can buy their way into a mythical "heaven" by forcing others to conform to their own personal religious beliefs. The only difference compared with the head-choppers in Syria and Iraq is, the christians tend not to butcher non-believers anymore. Jesus entering from the rear, 2000 years later.

Anonymous said...

....and they're off!

Anonymous said...

"The only difference compared with the head-choppers in Syria and Iraq is, the christians tend not to butcher non-believers anymore. "

That may be an important difference....

Anonymous said...

> I don't share an identical ethical framework with Mr. Alford

I think this points out why some consider this controversial: we don't know anything about Mr. Alford's ethical framework (though I personally assume he's a good man).
What we know is that he's a Christian pastor. But, Christianity comes in many flavors, from those who believe women should be subservient to their husbands, gays are going to hell, and abortion doctors should be shot, to those who believe exactly the opposite.

My point is, when Owen is labeled as a "Christian," what each of us thinks is colored by our particular experiences/opinions about Christianity.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason Christianity is such a sensitive subject is that too many of our laws are tied to it. Truly separate church from state and most would not care at all who people worshipped in their free time.

Anonymous said...

> what each of us thinks is colored by our particular experiences/opinions about Christianity.

An excellent point. I'd only elaborate as ...our particular experiences/opinions about the manifold varieties of Christianity.

Anonymous said...

I really could care less what this man does with his free time. Why should you?

Anonymous said...

"...I really could care less what this man does with his free time. Why should you?..."

One of our division leaders and his wife have traveled to Africa to help the children there and it was in the Newsline. Hats off to their efforts!

Anonymous said...

.....hatheists gonna hate...

Anonymous said...

Some of the comments were entertaining and ridiculous. One basically said that, because of the article, the public would see the Lab as a Christian organization and employees would then feel compelled to uphold that image!

Anonymous said...

It's not radical atheists who are risking their lives over in West Africa helping the Ebola patients, is it?

Anonymous said...

It's not radical atheists who are risking their lives over in West Africa helping the Ebola patients, is it?

It's all sorts of folks. Médecins Sans Frontières might have as many existentialists as fundamentalists. And indeed, they are all to be admired.

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