it’s all about context

i’ve spent most of today in the women’s maximum security prison in melbourne. i was asked by the prison chaplain to go to worship, because she thought that maybe we could do some alternative worship there together this year.

i’ve spent the last year telling people that alternative worship is not about style – that it’s about reinterpreting the ways we worship so that they speak to and from our culture/s and context. of course, the mental image i’ve had in my head as i’ve said those words is of worship that’s media rich, grungy, ambient, politically subversive, theologically cutting edge… i never quite pictured it in a prison…

so i’ve been a little apprehensive about today. the worship i create (as you’ll have noticed from this site) is wordy. It’s prop-heavy. It comes from a peculiar theological bent, and requires a certain kind of elastic thinking. And that was just the start of the apprehension…  I haven’t spent a lot of time in prison before… What on earth could i do that would be appropriate? how could i ever hope to be able to proclaim a contextual gospel within a context i know nothing about?

 

(i don’t have any answers to those questions!) 

 
i think i’ve always had this image of worship in a prison being something the rest of the church offers to the ‘prisoners’. i discovered, instead, that this is a congregation. They’re as much a congregation, and as much a part of the Uniting Church as the congregation that meets down the road from my house every Sunday morning. So when i talked to some of the women after worship, they asked me to come back… not to give them better worship (the worship was pretty damn good already), but to help them tell a story that they hoped would change the worship of the rest of the church ‘outside’. They wanted to say what life had been like for them… and what their fears were about going out… and they wanted to tell their stories of faith. they want to tell a story that defines them as more than sinners, more than prisoners, but as people who are loved by God. They were very clear – insistent, really – that they want these stories to be told to the church so that when they leave prison there might be communities, somewhere, that will understand something of who they are, and be ready to understand more.

 

so i’m going back. We’re going to do a few different things throughout the year. first up, we’re going to do a six week bracket of exploring some of the stories Jesus told in the new testament (the prodigal son, the good samaritan, etc.). We’re going to put ourselves into all the characters in the stories, and to begin to tell some of our own stories through theirs (Godly play would be really interesting to try, but i’m not sure about getting that number of props through the security system).  At the end of that six weeks, we’re going to create some liturgies together. And i’ll keep telling the story as we go…

the only three things i’m confident of after today are that i’m woefully inadequate for this… and that pretty much everything i know will be deconstructed through the process… and (this bit really surprised me!) that i’m really going to enjoy it…