Otto Festge was the mayor of Madison and a founding member of what was then known as the Madison Area Lutheran Council (MALC). Through his position with the City of Madison, he recognized that the Dane County Sheriff’s Office had no systematic way of obtaining clergy services during emergencies. Responding to this need, the mayor helped establish the MALC Task Force, known today as the Madison Area Jail Ministry. In 1970 the Jail Ministry asked the pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church to provide voluntary chaplain services to the jail one day per week. Shortly after beginning as chaplain, both the pastor and the Board recognized that a full-time chaplain was needed. Within two years the Jail Ministry was providing the Dane County Jail with a full-time, paid chaplain serving the spiritual needs of incarcerated men as well as the jail staff. In 2002 the Jail Ministry added a second chaplain to serve the spiritual needs of incarcerated women.
Following Rev. Weaver's resignation in late 2017, the Executive Committee and Chaplains began an examination of MAJM practices. They concluded that, rather than having one chaplain for the men and one for the women, it made more sense for both chaplains to serve the entire jail community. Working with key Sheriff's Department staff and administration, the ministry expanded to weekend hours including worship for women on the weekend, in keeping with community worship schedules.
MAJM is governed by representatives, both clergy and laity, from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and United Church of Christ (UCC). These synods and denominations, along with other area congregations, are the primary source of financial support for the Jail Ministry.
The name has changed~the mission is the same
A suggestion was brought before the Executive Committee in 2015 to change the name of the organization to the Madison Area Jail Ministry in order to:
Clearly communicate and reflect the work we do: A primary reason for changing the name concerns the nature of the work we do. We are a Christ-centered ministry providing spiritual care to all men and women incarcerated in the jail. Our work is ecumenical, and we'd like our name to reflect this. We honor our Lutheran roots, while recognizing that the founders of MALC intended the organization to grow and prosper.
Help ensure fiscal viability: Lutheran congregations continue to be the primary supporters of this ministry, and we are grateful. However for several years we have struggled to maintain funding levels. By reaching out to congregations that are in full pulpit fellowship with the ELCA (as outlined in the MALC constitution), we hope to broaden our revenue stream. Financial stability will ensure that we will continue to provide spiritual care to people who are often forgotten.
Give us name recognition: Our mission is almost exclusively focused on providing spiritual care within the Dane County Jail. Our current name says nothing about the work we do and we know we'd have increased exposure and support with a name that describes our work. by adding “Jail Ministry” we are identifying ourselves as a ministry specific to the men and women who are housed in the Dane County Jail.
Communicate Inclusivity: We minister to all people, of every faith background and our name now reflects our mission. By removing “Lutheran” from our name, we are declaring ourselves to be a broader, more inclusive community.
After much discussion and deliberation, and after a unanimous vote of member congregations, the name of the organization was changed to the Madison Area Jail Ministry. We will always honor the Lutheran tradition and history from which the ministry was founded and continues to operate. Also in 2016, MAJM began outreach to Episcopal, Presbyterian, Moravian, Reformed, Methodist and Moravian congregations in Dane County.