I would guess the Walls chapel has a capacity of 200, but for crowd control, only 80 “offenders” – as their nametags declare them to be – are allowed in. Chaplain Francis brought me a jug of water, and we went over the uncomplicated “order of service”: three songs and then me. And the service started.
Prison chapel worship was led by a choir of 8 men. There was also a guy on keyboard, a lead guitarist and a drummer. The music elevated me. Now, I can’t remember the name or the melody of the first song, but I remember the chorus: one word…Jesus. All the songs were slow and swinging, smooth jazz like, and nothing like what I’m accustomed to in the worship that I’m regularly exposed to. A couple of years ago, I baptized about 15 prisoners, testimonies and everything, and the prison choir showed up to sing us through. Oh, happy day…
The second song we sang on Saturday was Kirk Franklin’s “Silver and Gold.” A great song, but what I remember most was the solo that one man sang:
Woke up this morning, feelin’ kinda down,
Then I called my best friend; he could not be found.
Then I called Jesus…
He sang this particular part at two different places in the song, but I could never get the next line, because when he said, “Jesus,” the place erupted…both times. Suffice it to say that the overall sense was joy, O so good.
We closed up with Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready, There’s a Train a Comin’.”
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear diesels humming
You don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord
I’ve got baggage, so to speak, but I love that I don’t need a ticket. Thank you, Lord.
Then it was time to preach, which went fine, if I can say so. Preaching at the prison chapel, of course, is different than preaching at Edgewood because…well, let’s just say that there is a lot of audience participation. You might call it a team sport. Can I get an Amen? Every so often when I’m preaching at Edgewood, we get a visitor or someone who will say “Amen” as I preach. It’s okay, of course, but sometimes people try to “Amen” without the right timing. Not just anyone can “Amen,” you know; there is a rhythm to it. And if you’re gonna help the preacher, you got to do it right. The timing was ON Saturday afternoon, and the men helped me preach the same message I delivered to our church at Easter – the parable of the man who was forgiven much but who himself refused to forgive: The Lesson: Forgiveness always involves suffering. Hence, the cross.
Afterwards I got to the back and shook a number of hands. The men “glorified the worm” and then headed back to their cells. And then it was time for Chaplain Francis to walk me out through the many doors and bars…to freedom. I dropped by to see my family serving at a Piggly Wiggly brat fry, and headed back to my office a mile or so away. I had to finish a sermon for a whole different set of folks who would be coming to Edgewood at 5:30 that night.
My brief afternoon with the inmates of Waupun Correctional Institution was over. We only spent an hour in one another’s company, but I’m hoping that, at least with many of these men, one day…we will spend eternity together.