“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” – Matthew 25:35-36
The passage of time is a serious thing, and I like to refer to time as just go to bed a couple of times and get up, and the years will accumulate in a hurry, so much so you will try your best to figure out the speed.
So, as I am trying to calculate the speed of time, I do so with the fact that this year, 2020, come October, will mark 40 years since my late father left this world. He was the prison’s chaplain and died in the chaplain’s residency. Today, our text sums up his life.
I came across an old issue of the religion section of The Nassau Guardian, and the headline caught my attention – “Jail chaplain doesn’t focus on failure” – and as I go from place to place, former inmates and officers speak lovingly of my father, the man, the chaplain. They say there was none like him.
I share Samantha Luhmann’s story in the La Crosse Tribune (Wisconsin) with you. It follows:
“Everything Tom Skemp did in his life got him into jail. Not behind bars, that is, but rather in and out of them. As the La Crosse County jail chaplain, Skemp offers support and compassion to inmates at will – no matter what their crime. Whether a convict is guilty of shoplifting or was charged with domestic assault, he focuses on a person’s heart instead of his or her failures.
“Having worked side by side with him, I do just see such a huge heart and passion for the folks in jail,” Ann Wales, secretary of the La Crosse jail Ministry Board said. “He truly sees the human being behind the person.”
Before becoming a county jail chaplain, Skemp served his country in the U.S. Navy for 20 years. He enlisted at the age of 21 and retired when he was 41. Most of his military career was spent in radio communications sending messages back and forth between bases. He completed several missions over the years on a Navy submarine and “knows what it’s like to be locked up in a group of people”, Wales said.
When he retired from the service nearly 20 years ago, Skemp moved back to La Crosse, where he was born and raised, and enrolled in college to pursue a degree in ministry. He also became involved with the Roman Catholic Diocese of La Crosse, Place of Grace and Blessed Sacrament Parish I La Crosse. It was at this time Skemp began to volunteer at the La Crosse County jail, and after spending a significant amount of time working with and praying for the inmates, he was offered the job as chaplain the same month he graduated from Viterbo University. The position as chaplain isn’t a county job but instead funded by the La Crosse jail Ministry Board that is run solely by volunteers.
Although he doesn’t view himself as a counselor, Skemp spends most of his time listening to the men and women in jail and talking with them about their lives. He offers solace and understanding through reflection and prayer and empathy as a result of personal experience. His job is not to convert inmates to religion, but to introduce the men and women in jail to the possibilities of hope and faith.
In order for a person to change their life, there needs to be an incentive. Skemp said he doesn’t know anyone who has been able to recover without a spiritual component. “I plant seeds,” he said. “Whatever their religion or lack of religion is, that’s what I do.”
Another component to Skemp’s job is helping the inmates map a plan for their lives that they can put into effect when they’re released from jail. Skemp also works with inmates by teaching them in specialized cognitive restructuring and attitude change classes. We all have different things in our lives that we’re all capable of messing up; we’re not better or worse than anyone else.
The Apostle Paul, from his experience, declares that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but true confession is the only way for forgiveness, and with the powerful conclusion of the state of affairs of our lives, we are to feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are naked, give drink to those who are thirsty, be kind to strangers, visit those who are sick and those who are in prison, no matter what their crime is.
With this lifestyle, you will receive the coveted award from the kingdom of God, the “COG (child of God) award”.