Last week I participated in one of the most inspiring worship services ever at the County Jail. As usual, I was there to play the piano, and the chaplain and inmates welcomed me into their circle of sharing. Last Thursday afternoon there were 13 women inmates plus Chaplain Julia and myself sitting on wooden chairs arranged in a circle inside the chapel of the jail.
We began our worship by singing a new Advent hymn, “View the Present through the Promise.” (Same tune as “Go, My Children, with My Blessing.”) Then we went around the circle, each of us reading a verse or two from a reading in Isaiah and a reading in Luke. After the Scripture readings, the chaplain invited us to share what, if any, hope and peace we were feeling – hope and peace being the themes for the first two weeks of Advent.
This is a “congregation” that really cares about each other, and it shows. One woman said, “We were just talking about hope and peace in our cell block this morning. We were talking about the nine gifts of the Spirit. I am so thankful I am in a cell block with all these wonderful women. We all get along, and we really care about each other. I am learning so much that will help me live a better life when I get out of jail. Because of this time in jail with these caring women, I have hope, and that gives me peace.”
Another woman said she was glad to be among such loving people, and that today was her 39th birthday. I stepped back to the piano and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her. One of the inmates, an older woman (the one who knew the “nine gifts of the Spirit”) led us in singing a second verse, “May God bless you …”
Later in the worship service, when we were praying for each other – each of us praying for the person sitting on our right – the “birthday girl” prayed for the person next to her saying, “Catherine is one of the kindest women I’ve met. God, please bless her. I am so proud of her and so thankful that I know her. She is so caring, and and is so good to all of us. As proud as I am of her for being such a kind, loving person, God, I can’t imagine how proud of her You must be. Amen.” Spontaneously, all the inmates in the circle repeated an enthusiastic “Amen.”
I am always inspired when I see the love of Christ reflected in the lives of these incarcerated women. When the service was over and Mim picked me up in front of the jail, I told her “It feels like I’m back at Whispering Winds hosting retreats, and that a group of nuns just invited me to join them for their retreat time.”
Even though it was a cold day, my heart was nice and warm from all the love I felt inside the jail chapel. Hope and peace can definitely be found within these walls. “Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place.”