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Longtime jail chaplain retiring

March 25, 2009

Editor's note: The following story about Hagerstown native John Poffenberger was provided by Harry Covert, public information officer at the Alexandria (Va.) Sheriff's Office.

After 23 years, John Poffenberger is getting out of jail.

A Hagerstown native, Poffenberger got his first taste of jail life as a young Marine when he was assigned to brig duty at Great Lakes, Ill., in 1958.

Now, Poffenberger, 71, is retiring as chaplain of the Alexandria Detention Center and Sheriff's Office, where he has served since May 16, 1986. His last day at the jail is Friday.

He and his wife, Betty, are moving to Huntsville, Ala., where he has established Proclaiming Christ Ministries. He will be involved in itinerant/interim pastoral ministry.

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His first and only jail assignment came from the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, which has provided the chaplaincy in Alexandria and jails throughout Virginia and the nation since 1961.

He has been a five-time winner of the Good News Ministry's Chaplain of the Year, an honor of his colleagues.

"Chaplain Poffenberger has distinguished himself as the chaplain and a valued member of the Alexandria Sheriff's Office," Sheriff Dana Lawhorne said. "His service to the inmates and staff over the years has been outstanding. He is respected and appreciated."

The Alexandria chaplaincy is the second oldest in the Good News Jail Ministry, which was established in Fairfax, Va., in December 1961. Now headquartered in Richmond, Va., Good News Jail & Prison Ministry provides more than 458 staff chaplains, serving 343 institutions in 24 states, more than 20 countries and the U.S. territory of American Samoa.

Poffenberger was ordained in April 1975 at age 37 at the Hagerstown Bible Church. He served as pastor of Calvary Bible Church in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and as associate pastor at Hagerstown Bible Church.

While serving in Hagerstown, he ministered in the local jail and three Maryland state prisons. He joined the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, then located in Arlington. On May 16, 1986, he was assigned to the Alexandria Detention Center.

"I have enjoyed my work here in Alexandria," Poffenberger said. "The staff has always been helpful, cooperative and made me feel at home."

Both Poffenberger and his wife were born and raised in Hagerstown, where they raised two daughters. They have two grandsons in Huntsville.

"While I will miss working with the Alexandria Sheriff's Office team here, I am looking forward to being with my family and returning to pastoral church work," Poffenberger said. "It's been an exciting and rewarding time at the Alexandria Jail."

Poffenberger said he is a "Marine not on active duty."

After graduating from Hagerstown High School in 1955, he served in the Marine Corps at Parris Island, S.C., Camp Lejeune, N.C., and the Marine center at Great Lakes, Ill.

"My first assignment was as a swimming instructor for recruits and then brig duty at the Great Lakes," he said. "That's where I got my first taste of jail."

He studied at Washington Bible College and Trinity School of the Bible.

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