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Womens prison choir to perform Sunday
Episcopal Church of Holy Spirit welcoming group
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Forsyth County News

CUMMING — Members and guests of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit will be treated to a performance from a unique choir during Sunday’s service.

The 30-women group called Voices of Hope will be visiting from Arrendale State Prison in the northeast Georgia town of Alto.

The group was invited by Cathy Zappa, assistant priest with the church, who also works part time directing the prison’s theology program.

“It gives them the opportunity to minister and offer their gifts,” Zappa said. “You’ll hear it in some of the songs they sing.

“They have this one song, ‘There are no Orphans of God,’ and the first time I heard them sing that, I just started weeping. Some of the things we say in religious speak take on a totally different meaning when it comes from someone who’s spending their life in prison.”

Zappa works at the prison with Susan Bishop, who directs the choir as one of her many roles, which also include crisis counseling, therapy groups and coordinating the volunteer and intern programs.

She started a choir program when the women’s prison was in Milledgeville from 1984-87 and has continued it through the years. One of the current members has been in the choir since 1985.

Bishop said Voices of Hope, which travels up to four times a month, puts a face on incarceration and helps squash some of the negative stereotypes of inmates.

“When the congregations see that the women are doing something really productive with their lives, despite their situations and circumstances, and are still able to praise and worship and give back to the community, it breaks down those stereotypes,” Bishop said.

That’s important, she added, as more than 95 percent of the women incarcerated will leave the prison system at some point and return to their communities.

To be in the choir, the women have to go through an audition process, as well as having a clean disciplinary record for at least six months. They also must maintain that record to remain in the group.

Many of the members are Baptist and Pentecostal, which Zappa said will be a bit of a change for the Episcopal Church, particularly because the women will be ministering to the congregants.

“They’ve had all sorts of crazy things happen to them to get them to this point,” she said. “And the fact that they can still get up and sing with joy and sing about God and hope, I think that will minister to the congregation.”

The service will begin at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.