Churches in the United States have faced institutional decline due in part to an unprecedented half-century of intense cultural shift and digital acceleration. Many leaders responded to this disorientation with technical fixes that have exacerbated divisiveness rather than addressing the underlying crisis of alienation and loneliness. Driven by fear of decline, communities of faith have forsaken their alterity of purpose and become lost in the marketplace as a “purveyor of religious goods and services” (George Hunsberger). This thesis considers the imagery of Huub Oosterhuis’s hymn “What Is This Place?” in theological dialogue with the Voices of Hope—a choir of female offenders incarcerated at Georgia’s Lee Arrendale State Prison. Their collaborative ministry with Chaplain Susan Bishop models an adaptive response formed by the spirit of improvisation that sustains community under constant threat for survival. Through ritual musicking in a liminal context, the Voices of Hope embody an alterity of identity rooted in mutuality, inclusion, and wholeness. An ethnographic analysis of their lived example reorients questions of institutional decline away from technical fixes toward sacramental awareness best revealed, practiced, and sung together in holy relationship for the sake of others before God.

Degree Date

Spring 5-2024

Document Type


Degree Name





Dr. C. Michael Hawn

Second Advisor

Dr. Harold Recinos

Third Advisor

Rev. Susan Bishop

Subject Area

Music, Theology/Religious Education

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License