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One Glorious Hour in Maximum Security – Part 3

 

Part 1 of my tale of preaching chapel at Waupun Correctional Institution is here and part 2 is here.

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, as long as they “Amen” with 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. When I understand how Jesus has suffered for me, I am naturally willing to suffer to forgive the debts of others.

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.

(This is a repost from May of 2012)

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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One Glorious Hour in Maximum Security – Part 2

My story of preaching at Waupun Correctional Institution Chapel this past Saturday begins here

Chapel at the prison is electrifying. That’s the word for it. Reminds me of Johnny Cash’s classic live album, “At Folsom Prison,” except with Jesus. There’s a saying that goes, “You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have” and the men walking into chapel on Saturday had Jesus and not much else. I was thinking about that as I sat down near the front and watched the guys come in.

There was James, a guy who attended my study for 5 or so years, and I would guess is one of the godliest men I’ve ever met. He’s about 35, has another 12 years or so on his sentence. I don’t know what he did – I never ask the guys – but I’ve thought he would make a great pastor on our staff. Of course, I’ve never mentioned that to him.  If my misty memory serves me correctly, James is one of the many men who have testified that prison is the best thing that ever happened to him.  And by the way, in all my years of doing prison ministry, I have never heard a guy proclaim his innocence (think Shawshank Redemption).  I’m sure many prisoners do, but most of the guys I minister to seem to feel that for the most part, they have gotten what they deserved.

And I saw Luegene, who appeared really glad to see me. He once told me about stealing 20 bucks as a little boy and then feeling guilty about it. So he did the only right thing you can do with a guilty conscience and a 20 spot burning in your pocket – he flushed it down the toilet to “give it back to God.”  You’ve got to hear him tell the story, though. Your sides will split from laughing so hard. (Side note: as this is a reblog, I found out later talking to Luegene that I had confused him with another guy who had come to my Bible study also – easy to do as Luegene the kind of totally delightful character who would tell a story like that. I believe the guy’s name is Corey who gets credit for a weird kind of honesty)

The gospel I preach has brought me to a rock – solid conviction that I believe makes prison ministry possible: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)  I cannot, therefore, sit in judgment of these men, for I know my own heart.  I have never taken a man’s life…except perhaps that is, in the darkness of my own imagination, as Jesus said that anger and hatred make me an accessory to the crime of murder.

First, second, third or fourth degree murder – before the Judge of all the earth – what does it matter?  I’m guilty, and so are they.  Our only hope is mercy.  And our only hope for mercy is a substitute, Someone to serve the sentence for us.

Three years ago, I began visiting and sharing the gospel with a man in a hospice in Fond du Lac.  This man told his son about our church; the son started attending, and along the way, came to faith in Christ. The son’s name was Mike – he was the warden at the Walls.  Now, Mike is a wonderful friend who is serving the Lord alongside the rest of us at Edgewood.  He was baptized a couple of months ago.

Prisoners, wardens and pastors…the ground is truly level at the foot of the cross.

(This three part story concludes tomorrow and is a reblog from May 2012)

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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One Glorious Hour in Maximum Security

Waupun prison

Waupun Correctional Institution, affectionately known around town as “The Walls”.

I went to prison on Saturday, but thankfully, only for an hour or so.

Waupun, population ~12,000, is home to not one, not two, but three prisons – two maximum security and one minimum. I’ve been leading a Bible Study at the maximum security Waupun Correctional Institution for about 7 years. It’s an architecturally beautiful structure right in the center of town. I’m there on the second and fourth Thursdays from 12:30 to 2. No real prep is required for these studies: usually I just take a recent sermon I’ve preached at church and half preach it, half discuss it with the guys who come.

But this past Saturday I went to the Walls to preach at the Saturday chapel. I had done it once before, but Saturday is not the best day for me. It’s usually the day I’m writing out my sermon (I manuscript it, about 95% word for word) so sometimes I think of it like a 12 – 14 page term paper every week. Saturday is always a crunch day for me, so taking 2 hours in the middle of the day can be a little scary. This past Saturday, at the day’s halfway mark, I was at a nice place in my preparation, and I headed off to preach in a good mood.

Shortly after noon, I got to the front gate, and was met by Todd, the correctional officer who oversees the chapel most days when I come. He’s a gregarious guy, friendly, seems to enjoy his work, and though he’s usually not at the front gate, everything is different on weekends. Someone had to be there to escort me in – what the correctional officers affectionately call a “ride,” and Todd was the guy to do the job.  Todd says he’s going to visit our church…and read my blog.  You out there, Todd?

My first few times visiting the prison years back were intimidating. I thought once to count the number of gates and metal doors I had to pass through to get in. Suffice it to say, there were a lot. I don’t know if claustrophobia comes from being in locked places that are not easily exited, but if so, I can see how someone with such a malady would have a very difficult time in the Walls. Todd and I walked through the many accesses until we reached the large inner courtyard. Usually the place is a beehive of activity, prisoners and guards walking about, but on Saturday, it felt like a ghost town.

We proceeded to the chapel building, where I met one of the two prison chaplains at the Walls, Chaplain Francis, a man who has become a friend through the years. He’s a catholic from India, and returns home for a month-long visit almost every year. He greeted me downstairs in his office, and then I went to a medium sized room where I looked over my sermon for 10 minutes or so. Around 12:30 p.m., he escorted me upstairs to the large chapel…

Part 2 is tomorrow…

(This is a repost from May 2012)

 

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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One Glorious Hour in Maximum Security, Pt. 3

The Walls in winter

Part 1 of my tale of preaching chapel at Waupun Correctional Institution is here, and part 2 is here.

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.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

One Glorious Hour in Maximum Security, Pt. 2

My story of preaching at Waupun Correctional Institution Chapel this past Saturday begins here.

Chapel at the prison is electrifying. That’s the word for it. Reminds me of Johnny Cash’s classic live album, “At Folsom Prison,” except with Jesus. There’s a saying that goes, “You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have” and the men walking into chapel on Saturday had Jesus and not much else. I was thinking about that as I sat down near the front and watched the guys come in.

There was James, a guy who attended my study for 5 or so years, and I would guess is one of the godliest men I’ve ever met. He’s about 35, has another 12 years or so on his sentence. I don’t know what he did – I never ask the guys – but I’ve thought he would make a great pastor on our staff. Of course, I’ve never mentioned that to him.  If my misty memory serves me correctly, James is one of the many men who have testified that prison is the best thing that ever happened to him.  And by the way, in all my years of doing prison ministry, I have never heard a guy proclaim his innocence.  I’m sure many prisoners do, but most of the guys I minister to seem to feel that for the most part, they have gotten what they deserved.

And I saw Luegene, who appeared really glad to see me. He once told me about stealing 20 bucks as a little boy and then feeling guilty about it. So he did the only right thing you can do with a guilty conscience and a 20 spot burning in your pocket – he flushed it down the toilet to “give it back to God.”  You’ve got to hear him tell the story, though. Your sides will split from laughing so hard.

The gospel I preach has brought me to a rock – solid conviction that I believe makes prison ministry possible: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)  I cannot, therefore, sit in judgment of these men, for I know my own heart.  I have never taken a man’s life…except perhaps that is, in the darkness of my own imagination, as Jesus said that anger and hatred make me an accessory to the crime of murder.

First, second, third or fourth degree murder – what does it matter?  I’m guilty, and so are they.  Our only hope is mercy.  And our only hope for mercy is a substitute, Someone to serve the sentence for us.

Three years ago, I began visiting and sharing the gospel with a man in a hospice in Fond du Lac.  This man told his son about our church; the son started attending, and along the way, came to faith in Christ. The son’s name was Mike – he was the warden at the Walls.  Now, Mike is a wonderful friend who is serving the Lord alongside the rest of us.  I baptized him a couple of months ago.

Prisoners, wardens and pastors…the ground is truly level at the foot of the cross.

Part 3, the final installment, is here.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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One Glorious Hour in Maximum Security, Pt 1

I went to prison on Saturday, but thankfully, only for an hour or so.

Waupun, population ~12,000, is home to not one, not two, but three prisons – two maximum security and one minimum. I’ve been leading a Bible Study at the maximum security Waupun Correctional Institution for about 7 years. It’s an architecturally beautiful structure right in the center of town. I’m there on the second and fourth Thursdays from 12:30 to 2. No real prep is required for these studies: usually I just take a recent sermon I’ve preached at church and half preach it, half discuss it with the guys who come.

But this past Saturday I went to the Walls to preach at the Saturday chapel. I had done it once before, but Saturday is not the best day for me. It’s usually the day I’m writing out my sermon (I manuscript it, about 95%word for word) so sometimes I think of it like a 12 – 14 page term paper every week. Saturday is always a crunch day for me, so taking 2 hours in the middle of the day can be a little scary. This past Saturday, at the day’s halfway mark, I was at a nice place in my preparation, and I headed off to preach in a good mood.

Shortly after noon, I got to the front gate, and was met by Todd, the correctional officer who oversees the chapel most days when I come. He’s a gregarious guy, friendly, seems to enjoy his work, and though he’s usually not at the front gate, everything is different on weekends. Someone had to be there to escort me in – what the correctional officers affectionately call a “ride,” and Todd was the guy to do the job.  Todd says he’s going to visit our church…and read my blog.  You out there, Todd?

My first few times visiting the prison years back were intimidating. I thought once to count the number of gates and metal doors I had to pass through to get in. Suffice it to say, there were a lot. I don’t know if claustrophobia comes from being in locked places that are not easily exited, but if so, I can see how someone with such a malady would have a very difficult time in the Walls. Todd and I walked through the many accesses until we reached the large inner courtyard. Usually the place is a beehive of activity, prisoners and guards walking about, but on Saturday, it felt like a ghost town.

We proceeded to the chapel building, where I met one of the two prison chaplains at the Walls, Chaplain Francis, a man who has become a friend through the years. He’s a catholic from India, and returns home for a month-long visit almost every year. He greeted me downstairs in his office, and then I went to a medium sized room where I looked over my sermon for 10 minutes or so. Around 12:30 p.m., he escorted me upstairs to the large chapel…

Part 2 is here.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: ,

 
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