By Juan Haines
With his huge 1960s Afro standing out in a sea of blue-shirted inmates, Greg Dixon’s soft keyboard melody gave San Quentin’s Protestant Chapel a type of pleasantness rarely found in a prison setting.
Pats on the back and hugging repeatedly took place as the men-in-blue mingled about in the place of worship.
Adding to the relaxing mood, Albert Flagg’s keyboard and a sharp, yet muffled bass guitar filled the air while dozens upon dozens of incarcerated men waited for Good Friday services to begin.
Seven microphones were evenly posted on the stage for the 25-member Garden Chapel Choir. In the background four large palm leaves uniformly decorated the wall, a reminder of Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem on what became known as Palm Sunday. A tall wooden cross, nailed to the back wall, invoked Jesus’ death by crucifixion. A placard hung atop, slight askew, reading, “Jesus King of the Jews.”
The services began with all the men standing with heads bowed. A fiery sermon spoken in Spanish caused all hands to rise skyward. It ended with a long applause.
Again hands rose while the men were swaying in rhythm to the choir singing halloo-lo-yah.
Elder Derrick Holloway gave thanks to all of the men-in-blue for coming to Good Friday services, even though the scheduled special guests were unable to get into the prison, and the Final Four college basketball tournament was underway.
Church leaders delivered a short sermon about the significance of Good Friday.
Trent Capell and Michael Hampton focused on the power of redemption.
They let the men know the inescapable nature of sin and the gift Jesus Christ gave to everyone through blood sacrifice that created the covenant between God and man, allowing everyone entrance to the kingdom of heaven.
“The blood. Why is the blood so significant?” James Cavitt asked. “Why did it take the blood of Christ to make a difference? Without the remission of blood, there is no forgiving. It took innocent blood for man to have a way back to God.”
Ferrari Moody described Christ as “the trustworthy, the sinless leader of man.”
Moody addressed the power of being washed in the incorruptible blood of Jesus. “Have you been washed in the blood of the Lord?” he asked. “The deeds of the earth do not matter, if you haven’t been washed in the blood of Jesus.”
Other church leaders added to the meaning of Good Friday and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Holloway then took the podium and began his sermon that took the church-goers from Genesis to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Holloway emphasized “completing your assignment,” as a way to let the men know that working for God or doing God’s work needs to be the driving force behind being a Christian.
“Whatever God has placed in front of you, complete your assignment,” Holloway said. “People are fickle. They like you today, and they’re gone tomorrow. Just keep walking for Jesus.”
Holloway’s sermon examined sin, and he admonished the audience to understand that completing their assignment could “cost you your personal possessions, your family or even your life.”
Holloway praised Chaplain Mardi Jackson, the first African-American woman to work in the prison’s Garden Chapel. “That’s got to be the work of God,” he said.
The sermon ended with the singing of Amazing Grace.