September 13, 2012
Thursday, 2:30 p.m.
Letter #242: Community Choir—Minus the Christians?
With so much political instability and unrest in the world, Egypt and Libya demonstrating against the United States, and unemployment rates soaring, my interpersonal issues seem quaint—adorable mini-problems that aren’t worth much time pondering myself, much less wasting your precious time over. And this is nowhere near the first time I have considered this.
With each letter I prayerfully write, I face the realization that the issues you face are far more pressing, the stress levels greater, the stakes higher. My life is restricted, controlled, monitored, scripted, directed, and acted out as expected. Any variance is dealt with appropriately, all security and safety issues handled … and life—as I know it—moves on.
Yet (ahh, and you just knew I’d throw in a “yet,” didn’t you?) I choose to make the most of what I’m given. After all, we are all accountable for what we do with the gifts and opportunities God gives us.
So, like a proud father showing off the latest pictures of my ugly baby, I write this little note each week. You’re family, right? You have to say it’s adorable. Let me share the latest snapshot of my little monster.
I wish church were easier. Show up, shake hands, worship, sit and listen, pray, shake hands, leave. Truth is, it can be that easy, as long as you don’t volunteer for ministry. (Aw, c’mon! Can’t I get an “amen” up in here?)
Prison church is just like outside church with tattoos. And no women. There’s usually a core group of guys who take it REAL SERIOUS, and a larger, ever-changing group who shows up on Sunday.
The core group is expected to be at every Bible Study and church service, whether in your building or in the chapel, and of course you are expected to serve. And that’s where things get a bit tricky. In prison, we don’t have a visitation ministry, a children’s ministry, an outreach program, a food pantry, or most of the usual outlets for service in your typical local church. We have a worship team and preaching; everything else is pretty much similar to men’s discipleship/Bible Studies.
Most prison churches have a leadership team, which can make some decisions that must then be authorized by the chaplain. I’ve written at length about our leadership team here, with many brothers I love dearly serving on it.
The tough part for me now is that I’m not in good graces with the overseers at the church. Besides my decision to request the kosher diet offered here, they now don’t like it that I’m following the chaplain’s directive to open up our Saturday choir practices to anyone who wants to sing instead of opening it exclusively to the Christian choir members, who also practice on Wednesdays.
For months, while leading the choir, I let anyone come and sing with us on Saturdays, as an outreach, a ministry of the church to bless others. Recently, the chaplain restated his goal for this to be a “community choir” and gave the Christian choir an additional time to practice: Saturday mornings.
However, although our volunteer, Sister Peggy, and I choose the music and lead this community choir, the leaders of the church recently met with members of the “Christian” choir—who also have been attending this mixed choir for months—and gravely warned them not to go to Saturday afternoon practices (by law, they can’t prevent them from going, but they can kick them out of the Christian choir if they don’t comply).
I called a meeting with the leaders to get clarification, since they’d never told me about this policy. They said that “it may sound hypocritical,” but the choir members are free to join any other prison activity BUT the community choir “so they can focus on their job in the choir.”
Just as is the case in my business class or when I play basketball, this community choir has members of various beliefs and backgrounds. During the last two practices, we’ve been learning “The Hallelujah Chorus” a cappella, which—in my opinion—wouldn’t cause division or cause anyone to lose focus on his “job in the choir.” Oh, well. I’m just doing what I believe God wants me to do, under authority. Not everyone has to like it. Hallelujah!