15 December 2020
Reflections on Prison Ministry
Deacon Kathy Lamb recently left prison ministry after 22 years to take up her current Diaconal appointment. She reflects on her prison ministry.
In Jan 1998, I returned from visiting my sister in New Zealand to find out my next appointment would include the Free Church hours at a local prison. I look back now and smile because I phoned the warden up to say I wasn’t sure about the prison chaplaincy. However the appointment went ahead and when I visited the prison for the first time I felt at home straight away. A strange thing to say you may think but it was where God wanted me and over my time there and in the circuit I increasingly felt God’s call to full time prison ministry.
Hence the next 16 years have been spent in Lancashire as a prison chaplain. I look back and think of staff and residents and my role there with fondness. I, with the help of colleagues and volunteers, ran many groups and courses eg Victim Awareness; Alpha; If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat; Bereavement - Living with loss; Forgiveness; as well as being part of the staff care team and a family liaison officer and leading worship on many occasions.
Many pastoral situations were very tricky and sensitive. I have seen men with macho images crumble into tears or run out of the office finding it hard to cope with news of family issues.
Yes it was challenging, especially with all the changes of staff and residents within the prison service itself. But it was also rewarding and a privilege to serve those in prison - particularly when I saw changes in attitudes and when they began or renewed their journey in faith.
I encountered people - even ministers - who said they couldn’t work there. Hearing prisoners share - often at a deeper level than with those outside - without condoning what they had done led to a greater understanding and the thought that if Jesus came now he would be there in prisons and those who are marginalised. I would encourage all to think about ex prisoners and their welcome on release as I feel often this can be a missed opportunity for them to find support and encouragement on the outside.
"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1, NRSV)
It was challenging, rewarding and a privilege to serve God in prison.