Tag Archive | jail chapel

Joy in Unexpected Places

Dane County Jail on the top floors of the City-County Building on Martin Luther King Junior Drive in Madison, WI.

One location of the Dane County Jail is on the top floors of the City-County Building in Madison, WI.

The highlight of my day last Thursday came at the end of the women’s worship service in the county jail.  As usual, I had gone to the Dane County Jail in Madison to play the piano for the women’s worship service. But this service was a little different. Instead of a more typical opening hymn, we sang the refrain of the contemporary hymn by Bob Dufford, “Be Not Afraid.” The words are:

Be not afraid
I go before you always.
Come, follow me,
and I will give you rest.

We sang the words quietly, meditatively, three times.

Then we continued with the rest of the service. The chaplain read from the Bible. Each of us shared with the group how the Bible story spoke to us personally. Everyone wrote down prayer requests to give to the chaplain to pray throughout the week.

Hands playing pianoDuring this quiet time I played softly on the piano. I repeated “Be Not Afraid, and then switched to “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Some of the women hummed along. Then we went around the circle and prayed out loud for the person seated on our right. We ended the service by singing “Be Not Afraid” again, but with slightly different words. We sang the refrain three times, but we sang it as a response to God with the words changed to  – I’m not afraid. For the final blessing, we went around the circle in the opposite direction we had prayed, and we each asked for God’s blessing on the person standing to our left.

Then the highlight of the day for me happened. While the chaplain rapped on the window to try to attract the attention of a deputy to unlock the chapel door and escort the women back to their cell blocks, the women stood around talking to each other, and I played the piano again as a free-form postlude. I started with “Be Not Afraid” and then repeated “Jesus Loves Me.” One of the inmates, Linda, sang along from the opposite side of the room. Then I played “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Linda came over to a chair next to the piano, sat down, and sang several verses of the spiritual – I kept playing as long as she could think up verses. Then I asked her what she wanted to sing next. She responded immediately with, “Do you know ‘We’re Marching to Zion?’”

I started to play a few measures of the verse to be sure we were thinking of the same song, and she started to sing the refrain. I jumped ahead to the refrain and she sang it with a strong, beautiful alto voice as I played. After the refrain, she went right ahead with the verses and I followed her lead. We had a joyful time singing and playing together. I was sorry the deputies came so quickly to take the women back to their cells.

Here are the words of the song. We only had time to sing two verses, but I was amazed she knew all the words of the verses she had time to sing.

MARCHING TO ZION

Refrain:
We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion;
we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.

Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known;
join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song with sweet accord
and thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne.

Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God;
but children of the heavenly King, but children of the heavenly King
may speak their joys abroad, may speak their joys abroad.

The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets
before we reach the heavenly fields, before we reach the heavenly fields,
or walk the golden streets, or walk the golden streets.

Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry;
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
to fairer worlds on high, to fairer worlds on high.

I’m sorry I can’t let you hear what Linda and I sounded like in the jail chapel. But if you want to hear the hymn “We’re Marching to Zion,” you can go to www.youtube.com  and enter the title in the search box. Or, here’s a direct link to a pretty a cappella rendition that I like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgjEaF5O6RI

Whether it’s through music, or in other ways, I hope you have many unexpected joyful moments today – and every day.

 

4 Geese - long

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.

chaplains

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!

 

“O Lord, I want you to help me”

GOV065

If you were confined to jail for several months, and you were allowed to get together in the jail chapel with the chaplain and a few other inmates for an hour once every two weeks to have a time to read the Bible, share your thoughts, pray for each other, and sing a couple songs, what songs would you want to sing?

I’ve been thinking about that very question quite a bit over the past several weeks. As you may know, I join the women in the jail chapel about twice a month to play the piano for their worship service. The chaplain chooses the songs we sing, based on the Scriptures we’re reading for that service, as well as knowing some of the songs the women really like to sing. The women always sing enthusiastically, but it’s pretty obvious which songs are their favorites. “Amazing Grace” is on top of the list. “How Great Thou Art” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” are other favorites.

At the end of every service, while we’re waiting for the guards to come to escort the women back to their cellblocks, I play an informal “postlude.”  I usually improvise on a couple upbeat spirituals like “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand” or “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” or “Standin’ in the Need of Prayer.” The inmates are chatting during this time, and sometimes one or two of them come over to the piano to talk with me while I’m playing, often to request a song for me to play.

hands-on-the-pianoSeveral weeks ago a young woman asked me if I knew a particular song. She didn’t know the name of it, but it went something like – and she started to sing it. I stopped playing and listened to her sing. She didn’t remember many of the words. What she remembered was, “O God, help me, help me, help me. O God, help me.” I told her I didn’t recognize the song, but I’d try to find it on the Internet. She said she’d really like to have us sing that song at worship sometime. When I got home that evening I googled the words, and I thought I’d found the lyrics and a few youtube performances of the song. Unfortunately, I concluded that I wouldn’t be comfortable trying to incorporate that song into our worship experience. The overall message of the song was one of hopelessness and the ultimate triumph of evil.

Two weeks later, the young woman was at the worship service again, and she asked me if I’d found the song. I said I’d looked for it, but I wasn’t sure about it, and I asked her to sing it again. This time, another inmate also knew the song, and together they remembered more words. They sang, “O Lord, I want you to help me, help me on my journey, O Lord, I want you to help me.” When I got home I googled those words and found the lyrics to a different song along with several youtube videos. This is a song that could be very meaningful for anyone who is turning to God for help with their life circumstances, especially for women who are incarcerated.

I’ve searched everywhere I can think of to try to find sheet music for the song so that we can sing it together in jail, but I haven’t been able to find it. If anyone reading this blog knows where I can find the print music, please let me know. Here’s a link to one of the youtube videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss1R0TdkbUI

I’ve copied the lyrics below, however, this seems to be a song that lends itself to the substitution of phrases for whatever the singers want God to help them with. I haven’t been able to find a writer of the song – most sources list it as “traditional.”

Oh lord I want you to help me 
Oh lord I want you to help me 
Help me on my journey, help me on my way 
Oh lord I want you to help me 

While I’m waiting I want you to help me 
While I’m waiting I want you to help me 
Help me on my journey, help me on my way 
Oh lord I want you to help me 

Oh lord I want you to help me 
Oh lord I want you to help me 
Help me on my journey, help me on my way 
Oh lord I want you to help me 

While I’m singing I want you to help me 
While I’m singing I want you to help me 
Help me on my journey, help me on my way 
Oh lord I want you to help me 

Just as for all the other songs we sing in the worship service in jail, this song could be just as meaningful for those of us who are not in jail. We can substitute our own phrases, as well.

Back to my original question, if you were sitting in jail, what songs would you want to sing? For me, one of my favorite songs to play, wherever I am, is “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in This Place.” Here’s a youtube performance of this song for you to enjoy, wherever you are right now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzDGvDZxnuw

Chapel Window