New Manatee County jail chaplain loves his job

skennedy@bradenton.comNovember 23, 2013 

MANATEE -- Last year, Ben Pate was a turkey farmer, rounding up fowl at his grassy Ruskin spread for sale to his many customers.

This year, he has a new job as Chaplain Pate, who since March has ministered to inmates at the Manatee County jail.

"I sold all the turkeys," Pate explained recently, noting that the final six beauties of the flock went to a needy family with kids, whose parent was out of a job.

Pate, 69, a native of Bradenton, is also an assistant pastor at the First Baptist Church of Sun City, 3615 Gulf City Road.

He took the job of chaplain after many years of

volunteer work at the jail.

The jail sits on a spacious 43 acres just south of the Manatee-Hillsborough county line and houses 1,200 inmates, according to Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Randy Warren.

Inmates hold all different types of religious beliefs, including Christian, Catholic, atheist and even Rastafarian, Pate said.

"I meet the religious needs of all the inmates, regardless of their religions," explained Pate.

"Whatever topic they want to talk about, we do," he said.

"I encourage a relationship with the Lord," Pate said.

Pate's services are strictly voluntary -- he only counsels inmates who request it.

"I encourage them to read scripture, sometimes I give them my personal testimony," he said.

Inmates will sometimes confess crimes, but he recommends they confess not to him, but to Jesus Christ.

It gives them comfort and helps them to realize they can take responsibility for their crimes, Pate said.

"I look at my life, I tell them: 'God forgives any sin except blasphemy on the cross.' "

Although the jail might seem a depressing destination for most, Pate loves going there.

"We love the people; but mostly, we love sharing the joy of Jesus Christ," he said as fellow volunteers nodded in agreement at his office deep within jail walls.

"We love what we do," said Martha Brice, a volunteer who joined Pate in his office to chat.

Of the new chaplain, she said, "He's doing a great job. We appreciate his guidance and encouragement."

Pate helps a couple hundred volunteers who each month tend to the incarcerated.

Pate's wife, Gloria, a devoted Christian, is one of the volunteers.

As a boy, Pate lived in Palmetto. When he was a youngster, his mother was not a religious woman, but she never told him "No" when he wanted to walk to church to worship, he said.

At 12, he was baptized.

When he became an adult, he attended seminary and earned a college degree in fire science technology.

For 17 years, he worked as a firefighter and district chief at the Tampa Fire Department, retiring in 1986.

In 1997, he began volunteering at the jail. He served as a volunteer chaplain from 2004-13.

He was thrilled to be hired as its chaplain last spring after his predecessor, Karl Holsberg, retired. "I just love this job," Pate said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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