What a homecoming for GraceInside’s Chaplains and Staff!!! Due to the pandemic, it had been almost three years since the last Annual Chaplains Training Retreat. This 3-day retreat was at the Roslyn Retreat Center off of River Road in Richmond, VA on Wednesday-Friday, November 2-4, 2023. As usual, we had a wonderful mix of practical skills training, spiritual growth/worship and fellowship time. We had Melissa Welch (our DOC Contract Administrator) and Bernie Morris (Religious Advisor to GraceInside and to the DOC) give a policies/procedures update to the Chaplains. Monica Eriksen (a Field Director for Prison Fellowship) spoke about the Prison Fellowship Academy program that is currently running at several of the DOC facilities in Virginia.
Also, Mikal Annis (Prison Fellowship’s Chaplain Liaison for Virginia) spoke about Angel Tree and how the families of inmates need assistance all year long. Tom McCarty and Gordon McCarty (just recently released from incarceration) did a presentation together about Kairos.
Todd Combee, Director of Baptist Chaplaincy Relations (BCR) for the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV), shared about the process of getting chaplaincy endorsement from BCR. The benefits are that you become a part of a caring “family” and are offered some excellent chaplaincy training conferences in both Virginia and Texas.
Rev. Lois Carter, Rev. Randy Myers, and Chaplains Moses, Wagner and Meyer spoke about prison chaplaincy being a special calling from God and a unique “mission field.” They stressed that all Chaplains, Staff Members and Board Members need to seek out opportunities to raise awareness about our unique ministry, as well as help raise funds to keep GraceInside healthy and growing.
JT Clark & Terri Lee Clark, Founders/Leaders of “My Brothers’ Crossing” Ministry, served as both presenters and as “Guest Chaplains/Servants” throughout the three days of the training retreat.
JT shared his amazing testimony (about forgiving the man that accidentally hit the motorcycles of and killed his brother and sister-in-law, and of how they became dear friends and now serve the Lord together). Terri Lee shared her own story – about how she dealt with JT’s severe depression and suicidal ideations for decades with God’s help. JT and Terri Lee personally gave copies of their book to each Chaplain, and they showed the movie version of their story one evening and had a Q&A session. JT and Terri Lee became very close to many of our Chaplains during the three days of the retreat, and they will be ministering in many of our state prisons in the months and years to come. We are SO excited about partnering with their ministry!
Perhaps the most moving experience was a closing session in the Bishop’s Chapel on the final day of the retreat. Chaplain Tommy Armstrong did a skit, portraying and fully costumed as Jesus, carrying a real cross. He used a number of props and gave out large “nails” (railroad spikes painted black, with the red blood of Christ on them) to all present, as well as served Communion to each of us. “Jesus” told our Chaplains that He was with them on every single tough, stressful day at the prisons. He encouraged them and thanked them for being true to their calling to love and care for some of “the least of these.” What a powerful experience!