Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lonnie did his last motions, too

A good friend died last week, and we had a Memorial Service for him in a small church, but with a big crowd, as so often happens. Also just so happens that your Uncle Bob had a ringside seat, so to speak, because the widow, who is one of my wife’s best friends, had requested a song.

Both husband and wife had worked for decades, like Betsy and I have, in the Kairos International Prison Ministry.  

Matter of fact, Lonnie is probably the person most responsible for getting Kairos into Mississippi over two decades ago, and Cindy later led the push to get our ministry into the MS Women’s Prison, down in Rankin County.  

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One of the highlights of a typical Kairos weekend is the music, and I have been blessed to lead that often, not necessarily because of any musical talents, but enthusiasm counts too. Cindy had called as they planned the Service, saying that she wanted the MS Kairos Music Team to come play and sing “Lights of the City,” the Kairos National Anthem. “With the motions!” she declared.

This song is based on the 22nd chapter of Revelation, wherein John is carried by the Spirit unto a great and high mountain, and there he saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, which needs no sun, no moon, no stars, because the Light of that City is the Lamb thereof, Jesus Christ.  
We get pretty wound up singing that song, and even the inmates have added their motions to it, to pep things up.

Understand that we go into each medium or maximum prison in a state (Kairos is now the world’s largest prison ministry, in 32 states and a dozen foreign countries) every six months for a four-day weekend with 42 inmates who have not had the Kairos experience yet, and we ask for the tough guys: the negative leaders, as the Manual calls them.  

Thirty-plus-year statistics show that not only does a Kairos graduate stand a five times better chance of staying out of prison once he or she has served their sentence and been released (as opposed to maybe 80% chance of going back into the joint), but we have had testimony from prison officials that once a Kairos community has been established in a facility, within two years as much as 40% LESS security may be needed there!

The prison environment is changed, by changing the hearts within the walls and razor wire.

At any rate, Kairos volunteers from across the state showed up to pay their last respects to Lonnie at the Memorial Service. One of the Chaplains with whom he had worked for many years led the procession down the aisle (this was High Church stuff) and placed the box with the deceased’s ashes reverently on a small pedestal table at the front of the steps going up onto the sanctuary part of the church.  The chairs for the Music Team had been placed before the front kneeling rail on that side, so Lonnie was within arm’s reach of the Music Team.

Two members of the Team had been outside tuning up, however, and missed seeing the opening procession led by St. Dave and the Ashbox, which had then been loving covered by an embroidered cloth draped over it. I should have told them when they slipped in to sit next to me, turns out.

The time came when the Pastor nodded at us to come lead “Lights of the City,” and most of the congregation stood to honor Lonnie’s service with the motions, as instructed. It was in going back to our seats after the song that the Pastor and I witnessed the dearly deceased using his own motions, posthumously.

For as he passed the draped box, Stephen’s guitar brushed against the side of it, tipping it precariously. Mark was next in line, but did not notice, although I knew what was under the drape and was desperately trying to reach around him to catch the Ashbox. The Pastor was holding his breath, perhaps trying to recall the Prayer Book page where it specifically mentions scattering ashes prematurely.

Then as the guitar moved on, the rocking box rocked back the other way, and settled back down: secure, upright, and unspilt.

The Pastor and I breathed sighs of relief, and thought, “Praise God! Lonnie got to do his motions, too!”