Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July

While there are some variations in the order of worship and reading of scripture, one of the organists shares her testimony about worship at the Dane County Jail in her blog, www.WhisperingWindRetreatHaven.com/blog.php
 
 
"Testimony" – That's a word I haven't thought much about until recently.  Wikipedia defines "testimony" as: In law and religion, testimony is a solemn attestation to the truth of a matter.

     My earliest association with the word "testimony" goes back to my growing-up Methodist days. On Sunday evenings, our church had an informal service that began with a time of singing and testimonies. We would sing about a dozen gospel songs, interspersed with people standing up to give their testimony – telling the congregation about when they became a Christian or about how God was helping them get through whatever "trial" they were facing at the time.

     Now, after 50 years, the word "testimony" is creeping back into my mind. For the past several months I've been volunteering at the county jail a couple times a month. I play the piano for the women's worship service in the chapel of the jail. When it's time for the worship service, a guard escorts anywhere from two to a dozen inmates into the chapel. The women sit on chairs arranged in a circle. The guard leaves, slides the door shut, and locks it. Worship begins. The chaplain welcomes everyone and explains the rules – everything said in chapel stays in chapel. The chaplain introduces the theme for the day in about two or three minutes. Then we sing a hymn. The women sing enthusiastically, whatever the hymn, but their favorite is "Amazing Grace." I accompany the singing from the piano, then return to the circle.

     Next comes the time to read Scripture. Some of the women have brought their own Bibles. The rest of us get Bibles from the bookshelf in the chapel. The chaplain divides the group into two parts to read the first selection responsively. For the next reading, we go around the circle, each of us reading a couple verses. We stand for the reading of the Gospel. Sometimes the chaplain reads the Gospel; sometimes someone else does.

     Next comes the part of the service called "Testimony." We go around the circle, each woman talking for a couple minutes about how the Scripture readings are speaking to her, or about whatever else is on her mind. Often the testimonies are about trusting God to be watching out for their children while they are incarcerated. Other testimonies are about apprehension or excitement about upcoming court dates, or whatever else is coming up next for them. Sometimes that might be going home.

     Then it's time for prayer.  It begins with 5 – 10 minutes of quiet time when each woman writes down her own prayer requests to give to the chaplain. During this time I play quiet background music. If women have talked about their children during the testimony time, I might play "Jesus Loves Me" or "Jesus Loves the Little Children." If they have talked about being apprehensive about what's coming up next for them, I might play "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." After everyone has finished writing their prayer requests and given them to the chaplain, I rejoin the circle. One by one, each person prays out loud for the person on her right around the circle. It's a comforting feeling to hear the person on my left praying for me, and then I can offer that same comfort to the person on my right as I pray for her.

     We end the service by singing another hymn and reading a final blessing together. Then a guard comes to escort the women back to their cells.

     It is my "testimony" that God regularly attends the women's worship service at the county jail.  God's Spirit can be clearly seen in the sharing and caring among the women who are experiencing some very difficult times together. "Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place…"


 
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