Tag Archive | chaplain

Let’s Pray, Floey

Floey sitting - profile cropped“Hey, Mom. We need to have a talk.”

“OK, Floey. What’s on your mind?”

“Ever since you stopped writing your blog every week, I feel that we don’t talk at all. Oh, I know we still talk about the birds and the bees and the gophers when we’re on our walks – how beautiful the goldfinches are, how annoying the wasps are, and how fast the gophers can run when I chase them… But we don’t have deep conversations like we used to have. I miss that.”

“Well, I’ve got some time now. What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t really care. I just want to spend some time with you, talking about some of the things we’ve each been thinking about. I know. Last month you played the piano in jail twice for the women’s worship service again. How did that go?”

“Oh, that was really something, Floey. The main theme we talked about both weeks was God’s healing. We sang There is a Balm in Gilead and Amazing Grace. You know what was the best part of those services?”

“I bet it was singing those beautiful hymns!”

“Nope. It was when we prayed for each other. Remember we all sit in chairs arranged in a circle, and near the end of the service we pray out loud for the person sitting on our right. That means the person on my left prays out loud for me. When she’s finished, everyone says Amen, and then I pray for the person on my right, and so on.”

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Inmates are no longer permitted to hold hands while praying, as pictured. Internet image.

“Well, the first week, Marie, the woman on my left, prayed a long prayer for me. She thanked God for bringing me to play the piano to help them sing hymns. She asked God to bless me and my family. She thanked God for all kinds of wonderful attributes that she thinks I have. I felt really blessed as I heard her pray. Silently, I thanked God for letting me participate in a worship service with these kind, caring women.”

“That must have felt really good, Mom, to be prayed for like that. The woman who prayed for you sounds like a really nice woman.”

“It did feel good, Floey. And Marie seems like a good, kind, Christian woman.”

“After the service I told the chaplain how surprised I was at the long, glowing prayer Marie prayed for me.”

“The chaplain then told me a little about Marie. She was in jail awaiting trial for murdering her teenaged niece. Apparently Marie had been taking care of her niece, and had used physical punishment as a means of disciplining her. When her niece died, she moved the body out of state and managed to keep her hidden for a long time before a relative finally told the police.”

“How can that be, Mom? Do you think she really killed her niece?”

Floey-Marian faces selfie

“I don’t know, Floey. Life is complicated. Maybe killing her niece was an accident. Maybe Marie has severe mental illness. Maybe not. All I know is that she prays like she really loves God and wants to please God regardless of what happens in her life. And I know that she blessed my life by praying for me. And I will continue to pray for her that God will comfort her and bless her regardless of where she spends the rest of her life.”

“Wow. How about your next week in jail? Was prayer time the highlight of that service, too?”

“Yes, it was, Floey. It wasn’t quite as dramatic, but the woman who prayed for me thanked God for bringing me into their services to provide music, and then she thanked God that my spirit was there the weeks that I wasn’t there in person.”

“It sounds like you like to be prayed for, Mom. But I don’t blame you. I’d like to hear someone pray for me sometime, too.”

“I pray for you, Floey, but I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for you out loud in front of you. We’ll have to pray together sometime. We should pray for each other like we do in jail.”

“I’d like that, Mom.”

skmbt_c28016091209590“On the subject of prayer, Floey, Joan Chittister talked about prayer every day in August in THE MONASTIC WAY. She used a quote by Teresa of Avila as the theme for the month’s daily devotions.

Authentic prayer changes us, unmasks us, strips us, indicates where growth is needed.

“Chittister’s reflection on August 5 really grabbed my attention.

The role of prayer is not to coax God into doing what we think would be good for us. It is to embolden us with the courage it will take to do, ourselves, what scripture shows us Jesus would do in a similar situation.

“On August 12th she wrote:

When we discover who we really are, we are finally able to understand others. To be compassionate toward them. To be a gift to the world.

“Then on the 18th she said:

Prayer is the wail of the soul to become what we are really meant to be.

“Near the end of the month she reached the conclusion:

If we are too busy to take time for prayerful reflection every day, we are too busy to be human, too busy to be good, too busy to grow, too busy to be peaceful.

“You know, Floey, between jail and Joan Chittister, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer over the past several weeks. I think I see prayer a little more broadly than I used to. It’s not just talking to God about what I perceive to be my needs and the needs of my friends, or thanking God for all the good things in my life. It’s communicating with God on a deeper level, learning more about why God created me, and how I may fit into the big picture of life. And it’s about learning to appreciate all of God’s creation. It’s about communicating with God in many different ways throughout the day and night. And I’m just beginning to learn…”

“OK, Mom. That’s enough deep conversation for now. Let’s go for a walk to look for goldfinches and gophers.”

“Good idea, Floey. Enjoying all of God’s creatures is another way of praying…”

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Goldfinch and bee on thistle. Internet image.

 

Observing Holy Week – Jail Style

City-County Bldg 2Last Thursday I participated in the women’s worship service at the county jail. I’ll be doing the same thing again this Thursday, Maundy Thursday. Women inmates have the opportunity to go to worship once every other week. The women from half the cell blocks are given the opportunity one week, the other half the next week. Last week four inmates chose to come to the worship service. With the chaplain and me, six of us sat in chairs arranged in a close circle with a small table in the center that served as the altar.

We observed all of Holy Week in about an hour. We started with one woman reading the story of Palm Sunday, of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Then we jumped ahead to Maundy Thursday. The chaplain explained the two key events that happened that evening – Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and Jesus sharing bread and wine with his disciples – the first Last Supper. That was a natural lead-in for us to share communion with each other.

potters crackersUsually in the past when we’ve shared communion, the chaplain has provided elements that are commonly available in jail – saltine crackers and a plastic cup of grape juice from the canteen. But this time, she brought something special – Cranberry Graham organic artisan crackers from Potter’s Crackers and organic grape juice. The chaplain had picked up the gourmet crackers and organic juice at the Willy Street Co-op.

The chaplain explained what communion represents in her faith tradition and asked each of us to explain what communion means to us. Then the chaplain held the basket of crackers and the cup of grape juice and offered “the Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing” to the inmate sitting at her right. The woman picked up a cracker from the basket and dipped it in the grape juice. As she ate it, we all smiled as she crunched and ate the cracker. The crackers were really crunchy, but oh so tasty. Then the first inmate held the basket and cup, and offered the crackers and grape juice to the woman sitting at her right. We kept smiling while we waited for her to finish eating her crunchy cracker.  Then she offered the holy meal to the next person, and so on until all of us had been served.  I’m glad there were just six of us sitting in the circle so we could truly savor this moment of holy crunching and sharing.

When all had been served, we ended the meal by singing a hymn, just like the original disciples at the first Last Supper. The hymn we sang was “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” I wonder what hymn Jesus and the disciples sang.

Hands playing pianoSince we were trying to observe all of Holy Week in that one worship service, we read more Scripture and talked briefly about the crucifixion and resurrection. Then, as usual, we went around the circle with each of us talking about what was on our minds related to the readings or other thoughts. All four of the women were thinking about being released from jail. One woman was going to be released the next day, and she was really anxious to see her little boy again, and her boyfriend. The three others were going to be released within a couple weeks. All four women were concerned about being able to turn their life around so that they would never have to return to jail, and so that they could live a good, meaningful life. Then we prayed for each other out loud. We went around the circle again, praying for the person on our right, by name. After praying, we sang “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” We ended the service by reading a blessing as a benediction.

A prison cell doorWhile we were waiting for a deputy to come to escort the inmates back to their cell block, one of the women asked if I knew how to play the song “This Little Light of Mine.” I started to play the tune and she sang along. Then we all sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Both songs seemed quite meaningful for young women about to be released from jail, and about to go back to the rest of their lives.

I left jail that day thinking about lots of things –

  • What kind of bread did Jesus share with his disciples in the first Last Supper? Was it really crunchy and flavorful? Do church worship committees think seriously about the kind of bread they serve for communion – and what that could symbolize on multiple levels?
  • What hymn did the disciples sing before leaving the meal? I can’t believe that I never noticed before that it says in Mark 14:26 that they sang a hymn! That gives me a new perspective to keep in mind when I select music to play as background music during communion in the churches where I play organ.
  • How will God take care of each of these women as they return to their lives outside of jail? After all, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
  • Why do I feel so thankful and invigorated by the prayer the inmate sitting on my left had prayed for me and my family? And, do all the inmates and the chaplain feel the same way when someone prays for them by name? I bet all people (or almost all) are inspired when they know that someone is specifically praying for them…

I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to get together with these women to read scripture, share communion, express thoughts and feelings, sing hymns, and pray together. I need to write up a note about this to drop in my Gratitude Jar.

Gratitude Jar w note 4

 

 

 

Imagine you have just been arrested! Now what?

arrestedImagine you have just been arrested – for a crime that you may or may not have committed.

Your life has suddenly been put on hold – for who knows how long. You may have small children at home. Who will care for them? You may have a job. What will happen to that? Think of all the ways your life will be disrupted.

Imagine how helpful it would be to talk to a chaplain, someone who could help you think through and pray about the changes that are suddenly happening to you and your family.

In 1970, forty-four years ago, an organization called Madison Area Lutheran Council (MALC) was formed to address this need, along with several other needs. The idea was for Madison area Lutheran Churches to work together to provide a ministry to inmates of the Dane County Jail, as well as to work collaboratively to address other needs (like coordinating the collection of food and clothing for humanitarian relief organizations in Dane County and in other parts of the world). Over the years, other (non-Lutheran) churches have become involved in this ministry, as well.

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Chaplains John and Julia

Currently, MALC employs two chaplains who work in the Dane County Jail. The Rev. John Mix is chaplain to a daily average of about 800 men in jail, and the Rev. Julia Weaver is the part-time chaplain to a daily average of about 150 women in jail. This ministry is entirely supported by donations from churches and individuals. (You can check out their website for more information about the organization: http://www.madisonjailministry.org/)

As some of you may know, I’ve been involved with jail ministry for the last three years. As a volunteer, I play the piano for the women’s worship service twice a month in the chapel of the Dane County Jail in Madison. In this role I’ve been privileged to hear some of the stories inmates tell of how being in jail has changed their lives, and of how helpful the chaplains have been to them.

One woman talked about how being in jail, talking with the chaplain, and worshiping God with other women in the jail chapel had taught her humility. When she was first incarcerated she thought she was a better person than the other inmates. She was in jail for a mere white collar crime – income tax evasion. She would never hurt anyone or do drugs or commit any of the violent crimes other inmates had committed. But during her months in jail, she learned that God loves all of us despite the mistakes we make in life. And we all make mistakes, just different mistakes. The chaplain provided the opportunity and the atmosphere in the jail chapel for this time of sharing, learning, and spiritual growth to happen.

Another woman sat in jail for two years, accused of killing her little boy who was three years old. When she was arrested, her brand new baby was taken from her and put in foster care. She never saw her baby again. Eventually the trial and sentencing processes were completed and she was transferred to prison to serve time, a 13-year sentence. (She claims she never hurt her little boy. She says her boyfriend was too rough when he tried to discipline the boy, and she is terribly sorry she was not able to protect her little boy from him.)

During her two years in the Dane County Jail, she came to the women’s worship service whenever she could, usually twice a month. She was one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever met. I’m sure the hours she spent in worship services and one-on-one with Chaplain Julia were a tremendous help to her in dealing with her grief.  (I wrote about Maria’s Story in this blog about a year ago.)

yellow pencilIn order for this kind of jail ministry to continue, someone needs to pay for it – salaries for the chaplains, and money for materials like Bibles, paper, and pencils. At every worship service, Chaplain Julia passes around a basket of paper and pencils. Each inmate is invited to write down her prayer requests so that Chaplain Julia can continue to pray for her throughout the week. Chaplain Julia tells the women they can keep their pencils if they need them. Everyone keeps a pencil. Inmates don’t have junk drawers filled with pens and pencils and other odds and ends like most of us have in our homes. A pencil is a valuable gift – a tool that inmates can use to write down their thoughts, or to write letters to loved ones.

JAZZ for the Jail is an annual fundraising concert to raise money to help support this jail ministry – from salaries to pencils. If you are in the Madison area this Sunday evening, I invite you to join us for a wonderful experience.

Chance Allies - 3 heads small

Chance Allies – David, Tisha, Lucas

Chance Allies, a jazz group, will be performing. The group includes a female vocalist (the Rev. Tisha Brown – a UCC pastor), a pianist (Dr. David Allen – a pediatric endocrinologist), and a bass player (Lucas Koehler – the professional musician of the group). Chance Allies was created to do fundraising concerts for churches and other non-profits in the Madison area. Their style of jazz is primarily the smooth jazz from the 1930s and onward – George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and so on – the kind of music I love to sit back and listen to. (You can preview their sound at www.TishaBrown.com)

Love Mosaic

Created by the Backyard Mosaic Women’s Project

In addition to the concert, there will be a silent auction for works of art (mosaics, quilts, and other works) created by inmates and by friends of the jail ministry. There will also be desserts and beverages.

The suggested donation for the Jazz for the Jail fundraising event is $25. The Concert starts at 7:30. Come as early as 6:45 to see the works of art on display for the silent auction. The fundraising event will take place at Messiah Lutheran Church, 5202 Cottage Grove Road in Madison.

If you want to learn more about the jail ministry…
If you want to see (and bid on) some beautiful works of art…
If you want to sit back and enjoy an absolutely delightful concert…
If you want to feast on rich desserts and lively conversation with some friendly people…
Then I invite you to join us for the JAZZ for the Jail fundraiser this Sunday evening at Messiah.

Please feel free to call me (608-212-6197) or email me (mariankorth@gmail.com) if you have any questions. Hope to see you Sunday!