Extension Ministry: Rev. Eric Weaver, Prison Chaplain

By Barry Steiner Ball

Chaplain Eric Weaver is an Ordained Elder appointed to extension ministry as a chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, specifically serving at Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institution in Schuylkill, PA.  Born and raised in Short Gap, WV, Eric attended Wesley Chapel UMC “kicking and screaming” as a young child, but ended up serving as Sunday School Superintendent as an adult.  In between those years, there was some time spent struggling looking for a purpose in life.  Eric attended WVU and majored in Journalism with the hope of a career as a sports journalist.  After graduation, one short term job led to another as he jumped from journalism to retail to construction.  Eric was floating along like a ship without a rudder. All the while, Eric says it was not so much the formal lessons learned in Sunday School, but it was watching strong Christians live out their lives that sparked a conversion experience.  Eric says that it was watching these Christians live their day to day lives that helped him realize that, “they had something that I want.” 

Eric found some of that “something” when he just happened to be between jobs and Rev. Paul Mateer invited Eric to be a counselor with the Potomac Highland Youth Camp. It was in this experience that Eric found his calling into ordained ministry, not quickly, but over a several month process and ended up at Asbury Theological School in Wilmore, KY.  Eric returned home for the summer after his first year at Asbury and had the opportunity to participate in a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at Western Maryland Health System in Cumberland, MD. After returning to Asbury, Eric continued part time chaplaincy at the University of Kentucky Hospital.  While he enjoyed the chaplain’s role, Eric was sure his calling was to the local church, but the seed of chaplaincy had been planted.

After graduation and ordination, Eric served Ebenezer UMC and Oak Grove UMC in Moundsville, WV (never entering the prison there!).  After several years in the local church, a residency CPE position opened up at Cumberland Hospital in Cumberland, MD.   Eric took the position in Cumberland and began to nurture that seed that had been planted during seminary.  When the residency program was over, Eric applied and was accepted as a chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Eric’s first assignment was in Williamsburg, SC, his second assignment was near home in Cumberland, MD, and recently he moved to Schuylkill, PA, as one of three chaplains for 1,200 inmates. 

As a chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Eric’s main job is ensuring that all the inmates are given their First Amendment Right of religious freedom.  This does not mean that Eric is to be a rabbi to a Jewish inmate or an imam to a Muslim inmate, but he must make every effort to provide for their religious freedom. Surprisingly, this means Eric spends a lot of time working with the food service staff making sure inmates can get kosher meals or have meals served after sunset for Ramadan.  Eric helps facilitate volunteer groups that come to the prison and offer religious services.  Eric does have the opportunity to offer his own Bible Study.

Covid has, of course, turned everything upside down for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Visitation with family has at times been stopped and now is very limited.  Religious groups coming into the prisons have been stopped. At the pandemic’s worst, Eric was only able to make contact with the inmates by posting reading materials on an internal computer system that is accessible to inmates.  Everything has been made just much more difficult.

How we can pray for Eric:  Eric’s wife Natasha is a respiratory therapist and is on the front lines with Covid patients in the Baltimore, DC area.  Please pray for her safety and her mental health as the staff at the hospital has been depleted.  Eric needs some prayer to help him minister in a prison system divided over the vaccine.

Please pray also for the chaplains in our prisons, as the work load has increased and support from administration has decreased because of Covid.