Chaplain Rita Willett
It is our pleasure to introduce Chaplain Rita Willett as half the dynamic duo of Co-Chaplains at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. Chaplain Willett comes to us with much experience serving in a volunteer capacity at VCCW and we rejoice in adding her to our GraceInside family. The women of Fluvanna have needs so specific and vast that we have placed our first Co-Chaplains.
While interested in prison ministry years ago, Chaplain Willett shares she wasn’t sure what a chaplain actually did in a prison. Now that she is Co-Chaplain at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women and having served as a volunteer at Virginia Correctional Center for Women for a number of years, she knows the job well.
Chaplain Willett shares how this all came about. “I was a first year seminary student, taking Introduction to Pastoral Care at Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary. The class assignment was to interview two chaplains where you weren’t exactly sure what the chaplain did. So I found Karen Powell through the GraceInside website and contacted her. Long story short, I ended up doing my supervised ministry with Chaplain Powell at VCCW finishing in 2016. After that I continued my volunteer service to VCCW as a Lay-Chaplain. I graduated in 2017 with my M.Div. degree and that is how I’m here.”
Chaplain Willett goes on to share about her heart for those in prison. “Being in seminary and meeting Karen Powell and getting to work with her was a part of this leading; and part of it was getting to know the concerns of those in prison through Richmond Friends Meeting.” The Richmond Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends is a central part of Chaplain Rita Willett’s life and heart. It is where her heart for the incarcerated was nourished.
She shares, “We read The New Jim Crow together. Some individuals in our meeting volunteer with Prisoner Visitation and Support. That is a national program matching volunteers with prisoners who don’t otherwise get visits in federal and military prisons. Some provide dinners for those coming back on the bus from visiting with Assisting Families of Inmates. Some are active in Virginia Cure. And, we have people volunteering at VCCW. The concern in our meeting for those who are incarcerated was a big influence even before I went to seminary. There are so many things to be concerned about every day, but for some of us, prison is where we seem to be led.”
How does she describe her job? By determining your starting place. “What is your impression of prison? Do you know what it is? You might have seen something on television, heard people of influence make comments, maybe have a family member in prison.” She would discuss those impressions first. Then she would share how important it is to “treat every person with dignity and respect and accompany them as we can. That is important for those in prison just as it is for everyone else. “
Chaplain Willett shares this story that made an impression, “One Sunday chapel service a small, acapella women’s group from Quaker meeting came and sang with the Women’s Choir at VCCW – these two choirs singing together. One of the women from the meeting spoke about how powerful the experience was for her. She had never been in a prison before. All she could imagine ahead of time was how it must be to be incarcerated. She imagined they would be despondent. What struck her was how the women singing had so much joy. She had never imagined someone could have so much joy while living in a prison. It led her to ask the question of herself how she might be blocking her own joy… maybe her life could be more joyful. The Spirit works through all of us and was working through the women of VCCW and bringing joy to this woman and her worship experience.”
When not serving as Co-Chaplain to FCCW or attending Richmond Friends Meeting, she likes to take long walks, cook and read. She also enjoys writing and drawing, although she jokes that she isn’t sure she’s very good at either of those.
We are sure you are good at what matters, Chaplain Willett. You have love and grace in your heart and you are willing to share that with those who need it. We are so very grateful you are officially a part of our GraceInside family. Truly, YOU are GraceInside.