GOSHEN — A new Christian ministry service could soon be setting up shop on the lawn of the Elkhart County Courthouse.During a meeting of the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners Monday, the commissioners were informed of plans by the local chapter of the Christian Legal Society, a national non-denominational Christian membership association of lawyers, judges and law professionals, to partner with the Valparaiso-based non-profit Courtside Ministries beginning Wednesday with the goal of providing a manned prayer table at the courthouses in Elkhart and Goshen.
“It is our intention to serve the hundreds flowing in and out of the courthouses with a prayer table manned by a limited amount of volunteers from 8:30 a.m. to noon,” said Courtside Ministries representative Michael Kienapple of the plan. “We would initially just start with one day a week and eventually increase the days as more volunteers become involved. This is all in cooperation and partnership with the local churches in Elkhart County.”
According to Kienapple, the courthouse ministry service got its start outside of the courthouse in Colorado Springs in 2009 when CLS attorney Tyler Makepeace decided to set up a small card table outside the courthouse one morning with a small sign reading “Need Prayer?”
Over the next seven years, Kienapple noted that volunteers with Courtside Ministries have offered prayer services to people entering and leaving courthouses in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, California and North Carolina.
“Courthouse Ministries is not out to sell anything or interfere with attorney/client relationships or the administration of justice,” Kienapple said of the service. “In fact, Courtside Ministries has even received the support of the judges who see the value in serving the many people who come to court scared and overwhelmed or leave the court devastated or depressed. We always make contact with courthouse officials before coming to a new location, and are respectful of management desires.”
Along those lines, Kienapple said his group has contacted and received affirmation from Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers. Local judges in the county have also been made aware of the group’s plans, he said.
“Our practice is to set up a small table with Bibles and other literature, all of which is free, outside the courthouse in the public space,” Kienapple said of the particulars of the program. “Our ministry name and phone number are displayed clearly on a tablecloth to ensure there is no suggestion of government sponsorship. We also have several volunteers at each location who are trained to ensure that they do not impede pedestrian traffic and respect security.”
In addition to offering prayer services, Kienapple noted that the group also provides legal, medical, homeless shelter, job training, addiction counseling, church and other social service referrals, all at no cost to the participant.
The three county commissioners indicated the request required no action from them.
For more information about Courtside Ministries and its programs, visit www.courtsideministries.org.
In other business, the board:
• Approved an agreement with Rieth-Riley Construction Co. Inc. for rehabilitation work on the Summit Street Bridge over the Berlin Court Ditch in Nappanee. According to County Highway Manager Jeff Taylor, significant deterioration of the bridge’s steel support structure required closure of the bridge in April of 2014. The city and county governments have agreed to partner on the bridge rehabilitation, which includes replacing the bridge deck, beams and rail. The metal lattice in the existing rail will then be incorporated into the new rail. Construction is slated to begin in the spring of 2015 and conclude in the summer of 2015. Total cost for the project will fall around $168,000.