PORTLAND – The Rev. Jeffrey McIlwain, like most pastors, is in big demand at this time of year.

McIlwain spent Monday holding services in every pod at the Cumberland County Jail, where he is the chaplain. He then planned to spend Christmas Eve at the North Star AME Zion Church in Newington, N.H., where he also serves as pastor.

Search photos available for purchase: Photo Store →

Holding services for inmates is especially important during the holidays, McIlwain said, because they can’t be with their families and emotions run high.

“It helps take away from the stress. It’s a way for the inmates to find some peace and calm,” he said.

McIlwain started as a volunteer at the Cumberland County Jail a dozen years ago. He went full-time in 2001, after the jail was accredited and he was asked to be its chaplain.

“As chaplain, I’m minister to all the needs of the community, whether it’s Muslim, Christian, Buddhist,” he said. “I work with the staff and the inmates. I also work with the correctional officers and their needs.”

And his ministry doesn’t end at the jail door.

He continues relationships with inmates who are released, conducting weddings, baptisms and funerals.