Marysville News

Rag Tag strikes chord with inmates

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Although they're imprisoned at Marysville's Ohio Reformatory for Women, about 400 inmates recently had their spirits lifted by central Ohio's Rag Tag Worship Team.

Seemingly moved by vocalist Matt Warren while he was rehearsing the song Break Every Chain, women swayed their arms above their heads before the official church service even began April 6.

"There is power in the name of Jesus," Warren sang. "To break every chain. To break every chain. To break every chain."

It set the tone for a soulful evening, connecting a Christian contemporary worship band with women serving time behind bars.

The Rag Tag Worship Team, a multidenominational prison-outreach ministry based out of the Delaware City Vineyard Church, represents nine churches from throughout central Ohio.

Delaware resident Mike Carter, technology coordinator for the Johnstown-Monroe Local School District, leads the band whose membership has varied from 12 to 19.

"We decided on the name of the Rag Tag Worship Team because we were just a bunch of normal Joes who loved to play music and worship God," Carter said. "We have huge hearts for the Lord."

The team started in 2009 as a Friday morning men's group and added women in 2013.

In addition to Carter, who plays acoustic guitar and sings, the team includes: Columbus resident John Bixler, vocals and keyboards; Delaware residents Matt Blake, bass guitar, and Tony Gruber, vocals and acoustic guitar; Gahanna residents Jim Penn, acoustic guitar, and Margie Penn, flute and percussion; Marion resident John Wargowsky, vocals; Newark resident Laverne Phillips, vocals; Pataskala resident Carl Young, drums; Powell residents Kara Pickett, vocals, William Sorensen, vocals and electric guitar, and Warren, lead vocals and banjo-guitar; Sunbury resident Dave Martin, vocals and acoustic guitar; and Westerville resident Rob Johnson, vocals and electric guitar.

Band members range in age from about 30 to 70.

"We started getting one gig after another and played in 35 churches the first two years," Carter said. "It was so fun to experience different churches."

However, he said he felt led to minister in prisons.

Warren and the rest of the group agreed.

Their first prison performance was at a Promise Keepers rally at Marion Correctional Institution.

"When we got there, the place was packed," Carter said. "There were over 500 men wanting to see what this Rag Tag Worship Team was all about."

One inmate told Carter he appeared a bit nervous at first.

"I said we were not afraid to be in a prison, but we had never played in front of 500 folks before," Carter said. "He said at the very first stroke of the guitar, he felt the Holy Spirit."

Last September, the band played in the prison yard at Marysville for more than 1,000 female inmates.

"At the end of the service, 100 women gave their lives to Christ," Carter said. "It's the largest altar call I have ever seen."

The group has performed more than 50 gigs in eight Ohio prisons over the past three years. Marion's is considered the band's "home prison," Carter said.

"We do all kinds of worship music, from old hymns to contemporary worship music, blues, bluegrass, country and even some hip-hop/rap," he said. "Our goal is to play at least one song that will touch everyone in attendance."

Their playlist includes Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Rolling with Jesus, Change in My Life and such traditional songs as Old Rugged Cross and Amazing Grace.

The team has distributed more than 4,000 Rag Tag worship CDs to inmates.

Ohio Reformatory for Women inmate April Hall, 34, serves as the director of the prison's faith choir. Convicted of aggravated robbery, she said, she has served three years of an eight-year sentence.

Hall said Rag Tag's music ministry means a great deal to her.

"They are a very, very good Christian band," she said. "I'm strong in my faith at this time. They are very spiritual. They come to our revivals. It means a lot for them to come and worship."

She said Johnson also visits the prison to give acting lessons in the drama ministry program.

"They do more than sing," Hall said. "It's just awesome. They don't judge when they come. It's like a big Christian family. I like when they sing Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul. Everyone in the congregation will sing. It's very uplifting and encouraging."

Inmate Jessica Howard, 29, is two years into a five-year sentence for drug trafficking.

She said she has attended three Rag Tag performances.

"One time they were here, and one of the guys had just experienced a death in the family," she said. "To experience that and still come here to minister was impactful. He had tears going down his face."

Howard said band members could be anywhere else, yet they choose to be in Marysville.

"The power of their ministry is a great thing," she said. "They show good in the world, and they're so upbeat. They are an eclectic group of people. Their story is neat because they're from all backgrounds."

Team members Jim and Margie Penn initially learned about the band through Saturday morning jam sessions with Carter. She was the first woman to join the band, playing flute and ukulele while he plays guitar.

"It's very rewarding for us," she said. "It's a privilege. We're here for them, not for us."

"It's good to let them know they aren't forgotten," Jim Penn said. "Biblically, it says, 'Don't forget the prisoners.' "

The team's website, ragtagworshipteam.com, quotes Bible verse Matthew 25:36: "I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me."

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