By Frances Stebbins
[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
My recollection of ministry to incarcerated persons was renewed late last year with mention that Grace Inside has now been operating in the prisons of the Commonwealth of Virginia for more than 100 years. It is financially supported by a number of denominational administrative units such as the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
It seems that around the time of World War I, some clergy grew concerned that there was no concerted effort to bring religious services to those who might spend much of their lives in confinement, regardless of who put them there.
It was decided that such services should be non-sectarian, and so the program was set up. It’s had chaplains over the years from several different Christian groups, and those of other faiths such as Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist are also served.
For well over 50 years, prisons in the Roanoke Valley have also had chaplains. In the days when an organized association of clergy was active, the Jail Chaplaincy Program, which has had its own Board separate from any denominational group, has had ordained folk in the Roanoke City, Salem and Regional facilities.
The name of Disciples of Christ pastor, Dan Netting, has long been associated with the Salem Jail. The past November he was honored for his 20-year pastorate at First Christian Church on Front Avenue in Salem. He continues working with inmates.
Over the years, I’ve written many news stories about the local jail chaplaincy. In fact, a former chaplain, the late Richard Harris, once invited me to join him for a luncheon Bible class he led informally in the Salem Jail.
It was an unforgettable experience hearing the doors clang behind us!
With the holidays behind us once again, it’s time to pack up the trappings.
In my end-of-the-year column of two weeks ago, I remarked that sending beautiful greeting cards, especially as folk grow old, has been abandoned by many. Not so!
Re-reading them before their hibernation, I counted 20 sent to me by Postal Mail; many were accompanied by family newsletters now embellished with pictures of descendants, pets and decorated homes.
I reduced my card/letter list this year to save time and money, but I responded to those who reached out to me. Looking at some cards I received, I noticed, sadly, that two signatures affixed in late November belonged to persons who had died – of cancer and advanced age – by Yuletide.
The receiving of Holy Communion in memory of what is recorded in the Christian Gospels as having been done by Jesus Christ, is a central act of worship in some denominations. The manner, however, varies greatly with a common cup, on which all partakers place their lips, often used. Bowing to knowledge about illness being transmitted in this way, certain groups have always used individual cups.
Came the COVID pandemic with further sanitary practices promoted. Individual plastic cups became the rule to replace the imbibing or dipping of a bread waver in a vessel all used. It was not long before these plastic cups – disposed of in a designated container as partakers swallowed “the fruit of the grape” – created a lot of waste.
Over at St. James Episcopal Church, which serves the North Roanoke/Hollins /Williamson Road areas, compostable cups made from sugar cane pulp have now replaced the plastic. They are ordered from a church supplier online, I was told by a member.
An additional symbolic touch is, that since the cups are made from a product from the Earth, they can be returned to the ground and enrich the soil from which they came. Two women in the parish bury the used cups in garden plots in their yards. In the Communion of this Christian group, the blessed wine and homemade wafers are always returned to the Earth if not drunk or eaten.