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Courtside Ministries ready to offer a prayer for the most desperate

Mike Kienapple chapladirector Courtside Ministries. | JOHN H. WHITE~SUN-TIMES

Mike Kienapple, chaplain and director of Courtside Ministries. | JOHN H. WHITE~SUN-TIMES

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Updated: January 11, 2013 6:17AM

One gray morning last week, a middle-aged woman stormed out through the front doors of the criminal courthouse at 26th and California, yelling a stream of obscenities at no one in particular.

And no one in particular paid attention to her. Except for Michael Kienapple and his six volunteers, who saw a chance. When the fuming woman reached the bottom of the steps, Kienapple touched her shoulder and said: “Is it OK if we pray with you. Are you ready to receive some prayer?”

The woman thought about it for a moment, and then said: “I ain’t ready to receive. I’m ready to go.” And then she left.

Kienapple has come to expect the unexpected as the pastor overseeing Courtside Ministries Chicago, which this month celebrates one year of trying to apply a spiritual salve to bruised and broken lives.

Prostitutes, drug addicts, murderers, attorneys, detectives, firefighters — they’ve all stopped at Kienapple’s little table covered with a blue cloth and laden with booklets filled with words of encouragement and help.

“There is no norm,” said Kienapple, a slender man with a bald head and a salt-and-pepper goatee. “Obviously, most people who are really, really desperate for prayer are the ones who are in the middle, steeped in a case. So you have this thing of desperation, hopelessness and fear, with the all-consuming love, grace and hope of God. And the two come together — and they collide in this place of meeting people where they’re at.”

Courtside Ministries — which a criminal defense attorney started in 2008 in Colorado Springs, Colo. — operates Monday through Friday at 26th and California, in Daley Plaza and outside the courthouse in Maywood.

Last week, many of those streaming in and out of the courthouse at “26th and Cal” ignored Kienapple and his volunteers entirely. Some were outside for a smoke or a chat in the drizzle. But for plenty of others — those for whom little else had apparently worked in their lives — prayer was certainly worth a try.

Maurice Watkins, 30, leaving the courthouse following a driving-on-a-suspended-license case, at first told Kienapple that he’d “have to take a rain check” on the prayer offer because he needed to catch a cab home. But then Watkins changed his mind, and missed at least two cabs while he bowed his head.

“I need a whole lot of praying,” said Watkins, in a wheelchair with a broken hip. “I’m really going through a lot right now.”

A similar story of woe unfolds in front of Kienapple 50 to 60 times a day. He says he and his volunteers typically discourage the sharing of too many details.

“We do not go there with them,” Kienapple said. “We actually stop them. We really don’t want to get into the judicial or political realm ... because it’s a slippery slope otherwise.”

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