Into Missionaries they became…

7 Feb

“Freedom, O freedom, O freedom…Freedom is coming; freedom is coming; freedom is coming, O yes, I know!”

The voices rose with such powerful, melodic force that we were swept into that liminal space where heaven and earth meet.

There is nothing like the sound of young adults singing a song of hope.

But these young adults were not the bright-eyed coeds who crisscross our campus every day and the venue was not the brick chapel that, these days, is used more for lectures and recitals than for prayer.  Instead, these earnest voices belonged to incarcerated young men; our sanctuary a concrete auditorium with cinderblock walls and thick, black bars in lieu of stained glass windows.

Every Wednesday night, music education majors from Westminster Choir College accompany me to a youth correctional facility about 20 miles from campus.  They leave all of their personal belongings—including cell phones—behind.  Once we enter through the heavy iron door that clanks shut behind us, we are ushered through a metal detector and patted down.  We turn in our picture i.d.’s and are issued blue clip-on badges that identify us as outsiders.  We make our way to the auditorium, where we arrange gray plastic chairs into a semi-circle and wait for the men to arrive.

They begin trickling in, greeting us with warm smiles and firm handshakes.  We are welcomed with inquiries about our week, our health, our spirits.

Scripture is read, often a Psalm.  Someone opens with prayer.  Then the students begin to teach songs: sacred classics, gospel tunes, hymns and spirituals.  They have no instruments, no chalk or dry-erase markers. The musical gifts of the singers vary widely, but the student teachers bring out the best in every one.  It is a beautiful thing to see.  Sometimes the choir members share an original rap that one of them has written.  We pause to reflect on the words and where they touch our lives.  We sing some more, all of us together.

The guard indicates that our time will soon be up.  We all pitch in and put the chairs away. We gather in a circle and pray.  Christ’s peace is passed; words of blessing are spoken.  The choir members return to their cells.

The students and I retrace our path to the bullet-proof pass thru security window where we exchange the blue badges for the identification we brought with us. The same heavy door that greeted us quickly clanks behind us after we exit the building.

On the drive back to campus we talk, sharing our reflections on the night.  Reunited with their phones, these maestros turn back into students, lamenting the work they still have to do before going to bed as they reply to the text messages that filled their inboxes during the ninety-minute separation.

Through it all, they talk.

“This may sound weird, but leading the prison choir is the most peaceful part of my week.”

“What an awesome night!  This is definitely the highlight of my week!”

“People look at me like I’m nuts when I tell them I found God in prison.”

These words are the food that nourishes me on those days when I am tempted to believe that this ministry doesn’t matter; when I succumb to the idea that maybe we have lost a generation, or that Jesus has left the building and we are, indeed, alone.  I close my eyes and pray my way back to that blessed circle of music and community—community where there shouldn’t be community.  Unleashed from the trappings of their lives, college students and incarcerated students find freedom in sharing with each other their gifts, their prayers, their faith.   God reigns. And so we sing the next verse,

“Jesus is coming; Jesus is coming; Jesus is coming, O yes, I know!”


Dawn Adamy is a PCUSA pastor and has served as Trenton Area Campus Ministry’s Protestant Chaplain to Rider University and Westminster Choir College since 2008.  Prior to that, she served as Designated Pastor to Amwell First Presbyterian Church in Ringoes, NJ. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Dawn enjoys good coffee and good theater, especially of the musical variety. She lives in Lawrenceville, NJ with her husband, Sam, and their children, Hannah, Kate and Daniel.


One Response to “Into Missionaries they became…”

  1. mark lloyd richardson February 7, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Beautiful telling of God’s grace at work!

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