Chaplain’s Corner April, 2021
Having volunteered in jail and prison ministry for the last 19 years, I have grown to love this population. Do I love what they have done? No. Do I think they need to face the consequences of their choices? Yes. Do I pray that whatever the consequences are, they will work for their good? I do. Do I believe that God who created the universe out of nothing can recreate them? Yes.
Having said all of that, do I find it a challenge to work with them? Yes. And what is my biggest challenge? Believing what they say. Our ministry provides for some of their material needs or provides them with services. Because of this, there is always a temptation for them to try and get more or to get something not approved. So therein lies the conflict. Loving and ministering to people that you can’t always believe. How do I decide? I am sure this is something their families and friends struggle with as well.
So what to do? Well, I’m learning from jail staff, now as the full time chaplain, to have policies and follow them. They will get this item, if they qualify, and they get it this often. They will get a service if they meet this criteria or it is approved by jail leadership. They will get this item one time. If they need it replaced, they will have to follow these steps. I will do this but I won’t do that. Every time something new comes along, which happens weekly, I develop a new policy or a new process. I have to always ask myself, if I do it for one, I need to be prepared to do it for 200.
It’s about setting boundaries. I can honestly say that this is the hardest part of my position, at least so far. My mentor, at the jail, has helped me understand how good it is to allow them to learn to wait; to accept no; to live with rules and limits. It helps me to say no knowing that will keep us all healthier. I won’t have to believe something, only to be disappointed. I won’t have to second guess and wonder, just follow my practice. The best benefit is it actually helps me to continue to love this population without having to wonder if I am being taken advantage of in the situation.
I learned through my faith when giving to people who ask for help, to never expect to get paid back. I learned to be at peace with others and to be truly free from disappointments, it is the only way to give. I admit I have had to relearn this at times in my life. I am also having to learn to adapt this approach to the inmates. By not being dependent on their behaviors and words, if I just follow my policies and practices then we will both be at peace and free.
Blessings to all,
I started in ministry after college with my first husband starting a church in Cloquet, Minnesota. We then served as missionaries in the country of Lebanon. Our plan was to be career missionaries. Then Steve was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and died on Christmas day. I’m sharing this story because, while it was awful and so very painful, God used this time in my life in many ways.
He used it to help me develop a heart of empathy and an understanding of pain. He also used it to inspire me through the actions of a close friend. My friend, Kathi, left her young children and husband on Christmas day to drive three hours to be by my side and help me through those initial days. Because of that, I learned how important it is to show up for others during the most painful times in their lives.
When I met my current husband here in Onalaska, he introduced me to his passion for serving in jail ministry. I have served in jail ministry now for over 18 years, showing up for people and developing a heart for this population. In the jail, I have provided services and Bible studies. I have also served on the La Crosse Jail Ministry Board for many years.
After working many years in human resources at Gundersen Health System, I decided, once again, to pursue a career in ministry, where I could show up for others. It started with an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Gundersen, which is basically chaplain training. My placement site was actually in the jail with Chaplain Tom Skemp as my mentor. I then spent seven years taking two classes a year to complete a Masters Degree in Christian Studies through Crown College.
I recently came across an article that I had written after working with Tom in the jail and after being assigned to complete visits with women one on one. I decided to share some excerpts:
I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect when I started. I knew I would be visiting with women at one of the lowest times in their life. It was a challenge to think how I could best minister to them. I was there because I believe God loves them and I wanted to bring that love to them through me. So what is the best way to do that? After some trial and error and then through my training and Tom’s guidance I began to figure it out. I learned they didn’t need someone to come in with all the answers, telling them what to do, think and believe. They needed someone to listen to them with compassion and without judgment. They needed someone to help them process. They needed someone to respect their choice of faith and their preferred faith tradition. They almost all wanted prayer; it was a way for them to hear I heard them and was bringing their requests, their pain, their needs and wants to God. There were a few that didn’t want me to pray for them during our meetings. I never prayed without asking their permission, respecting their wishes.
Even though I wasn’t sure what to expect, I would never have expected that I would be so blessed by these women. I was humbled by the fact that they would trust me with the hardest parts of their life as well as sharing their relationship with God. I would come to encourage them and they would encourage me. My faith has grown in leaps and bounds as I’ve seen God show up in their lives. This ministry has truly been life changing for me and I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve in this way.
I wasn’t sure where I would end up serving after completing my formal training. I knew I wanted it to be an opportunity to show up for others. I am so grateful God has led me to this door as the chaplain in the jail. It is an honor and I am again so grateful. I have a lot to learn and will be dependent on the jail staff and many of you. I would appreciate any and all prayers.
How can I help you? Please contact the chaplain’s office at:
La Crosse Jail Ministry
PO Box 2675
La Crosse WI 54602-2675