DVIDS – News – Author speaks at National Prayer Breakfast at Fort Sill

FORT SILL, Oklahoma (April 6, 2022) – In her National Prayer Breakfast message, Reverend Angela Gorrell spoke of her discovery of joy in a truly unexpected place – a Bible study group of incarcerated women.

Gorell, assistant professor of practical theology at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, spoke to a packed house April 6 at the Patriot Club.

In 2016, Gorell was working on the “Theology of Joy Project” at Yale University when, in the space of four weeks, she lost after losing three family members – one to suicide at age 30, a nephew 22-year-old died of cardiac arrest and his father died of organ failure due to opioids.

“I spoke at all three of their funerals,” Gorell said. “I found myself at Yale, trying to study joy and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really shallow work in a hurting world.’ For over a year, I really struggled to find my work relevant in a hurting world.

To help cope with the loss, Gorell, at the invitation of a friend from her church, became a volunteer chaplain at a women’s prison.

“For a year, almost every Wednesday evening, I met these women. Some were on suicide watch. Most were in jail for substance use issues,” Gorell said. “In that room of the prison, I began to see what joy was. In this room, there was no shame. These women have become humanized. There was lamentation, there was hope, there was rejoicing. There was a search for meaning. There was an honesty about the anger, the fear. It changed my whole life.

One night, while singing, Gorell saw freedom coming for condemned women.

“We were singing ‘This Little Light of Mine’ with passion. Normally the lyrics are, “My little light, I’m gonna let it shine,” Gorell said. “That night someone added, ‘everyone in this place, I’m going to let it shine.’ We started creating our own lines. The more we did this, the more free we became with the song. One night we were literally dancing. Everyone was jumping up and down and singing loudly and clapping. One of the women used the joint from the window as a drum, to create a rhythmic line. There were tears and laughter. It was so loud that one of the correctional officers came into the room. I was nervous because sometimes the correctional officers were ending the meeting for a number of reasons. Instead, she started to join us, clapping and singing. When we were done, she said, ‘Wow, there’s joy in this room this evening.’ »

For Gorell, the moment represented how, even in the midst of truly difficult circumstances, people can somehow rejoice together and “freedom can come against all odds.”

Gorell ended his commentary with words encouraging everyone to find joy in all connections made with others and in everyday moments.

“There is joy in the very presence of God serving us,” Gorrell said. “Joy can always, always find us. The next time you notice a glow from a firefly a full moon; a child who laughs uncontrollably; a table surrounded by people you love; a pet that warmly greets you a song that means something to you; a spontaneous and kind gesture; or a meeting at the airport – take those moments and let God serve you.

The annual inspirational commemoration was hosted by Maj. Gen. Ken Kamper, Fire Center of Excellence and Commanding General of Fort Sill, and sponsored by the Installation Chaplains Office.

Gorell, is the author of “Always On: Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape,” which addresses the dangers and possibilities of Christian faith in a time of massive technological change. She is also writing a book that discusses suicide and opiate addiction and describes joy as the counterbalance to despair.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in youth ministry from Azusa Pacific University and an M.Div. and doctorate. from Fuller Theological Seminary. She came to Baylor from the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, where she developed relationships with more than 250 scholars from approximately 150 institutions on four continents while managing the parameters and assessment of “Theology of Joy Project”. She has over 14 years of experience in congregational and paraecclesial ministry, including as a chaplain at a maximum security prison for women.

Date taken: 04.06.2022
Date posted: 04.07.2022 11:23
Story ID: 418034
Location: FORT SILL, OK, WE

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Lola R. McClure