GALLATIN, Tenn. (BP) – When more than 50 people were baptized at the Sumner County Jail in early May, it was the culmination of many years of ministry from two neighboring churches.
“It was a beautiful thing, one of the highlights of my life,” said Danny Spano, a chaplain from the Sumner County Jail, of the 58 baptisms.
Spano serves as the pastor of member care and recovery at Long Hollow Church in Hendersonville, Tenn.
Hendersonville is one of several towns and cities which make up Sumner County, including Goodlettsville and Gallatin, where the jail is located.
In his ministry, Spano helps oversee the Celebrate Recovery ministry at Long Hollow, and also leads CR a group for male inmates at the jail.
Shortly after Easter this year, the group took a break from their CR material to watch a video of the Easter service from Long Hollow.
Spano told Baptist Press several of the inmates responded to the Gospel invitation in the service.
“Tears were rolling down some of their faces,” Spano said.
In response to this, Spano reached out to leadership of the jail about holding a baptism on site, which the facility had not done since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spano said nearly 15 men had expressed interest in getting baptized, but that figure was quickly topped by the number of female inmates seeking the same.
Aletha Tigges is a board member for a rehabilitation program in the Sumner County Jail known as Homeward Bound.
It is designed to assist inmates as they prepare to leave the facility, through things like counseling, behavior management, education training and CR programs for both men and women.
Tigges is a member First Baptist Hendersonville. She told Spano there were more than 30 female inmates who had expressed to her a desire for baptism.
What resulted was a joint baptism event Friday, May 5, where 14 men and 44 women were baptized. First Baptist brought the baptismal and Spano performed the baptisms.
The event was attended by Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow and Bruce Raley, senior associate pastor at First Baptist Hendersonville.
Raley told Baptist Press the joint event was not really an intentional partnership between the churches, but simply an overflow of them both ministering to the community.
“It’s a very unique situation,” Raley said. “In a town of just over 65,000 (Hendersonville), there are two megachurches within five miles of each other.
“We have great relationships with one another. We pray for one another. We celebrate with one another. Leaderships are friends with one another. There’s no competition whatsoever. Even right here in Middle Tennessee, we know that the vast majority of our neighbors do not go to any church on any one Sunday.
“We’ve got mission fields around us, so there’s absolutely no competition but instead we complement one another. We’re both desiring to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ and see our community turned upside down for Jesus.”
Spano echoed the sentiment of Raley.
“When you look at Long Hollow and First Baptist, they are kind of like sister churches,” Spano said. “Our two churches work together in several areas. There is a long history of collaboration between these two churches.”
The event was deeply personal for the leadership of Long Hollow, as recovery is a part of Spano’s testimony. He told Baptist Press he’s been sober for 18 years, and has been involved with recovery and jail ministry for more than 17.
Gallaty also is a recovered drug addict, who recently announced his 20-year sobriety from drugs and alcohol. He chronicled his testimony in his book, “Recovered: How an Accident, Alcohol, and Addiction Led Me To God.”
Spano pointed to the deep need throughout the country for both recovery-based ministry and prison ministry, adding that more than 100,000 people died from an overdose in the United States last year. The Vietnam War killed around 58,000 American soldiers in total.
“Nothing is destroying families more,” Spano said. “Every church should have a Celebrate Recovery ministry. If you’re not doing it, they just haven’t prayed about it and they’re not engaging in their community.”
The deep need for ministry in this area is what originally inspired Tigges to get involved with the female inmates of Sumner County Jail more than 10 years ago.
Tigges recalls hearing a sermon from recently deceased legendary preacher Charles Stanley about the need to minister to those in jail.
She felt convicted and then went on to hear several related messages about the exact same topic of ministering to those in jail over the next several weeks.
“I felt God trying to speak to me,” Tigges told Baptist Press.
When she told her husband about this calling she was experiencing, Tigges said she was not sure what his reaction would be.
Instead of being disappointed by her desire to take time for this ministry, her husband asked what other tasks he could take off her plate so that she could do what God had called her to do.
Tigges began working with Homeward Bound before joining the board. In her partnership with Sumner County, Tigges has helped lead various Bible studies and book studies with female inmates for years.
She said ultimately seeing this recent spiritual fruit among them is not of her own doing.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Tigges said. “I’m the one who feels blessed.
“[The baptisms are] not a result of me doing the Bible study, it’s a result of God. It’s God being there and them feeling the presence of God and them hearing God’s voice.”