Prison chaplaincy is an incredible privilege for those who serve in prisons. They often spend time with people who feel they have no hope, finding opportunities to share God's love. Prison chaplains can be lay or ordained, but have to be in a recognised mininstry and endorsed by a Faith Advisor. The Free Churches Group oversees this for Free Church denominations.
"Working in Prison Chaplaincy can be both an immensely rewarding and frustrating experience. It combines traditional church ministry as many would understand: leading worship; running bible studies; preaching and teaching; offering pastoral care, along with a radical cross- cultural opportunity. Apart from the diverse cultural mix of people in prisons, there is the culture of prison itself to work with. Chaplaincy is never dull!" (The Revd Bob Wilson, Free Churches Faith Advisor for Prison Chaplaincy)
Insights into prison chaplaincy
"Serving in prison reminds me of the Methodist belief “All can be saved”. Leading worship and Bible studies, listening and offering hope when someone is hopeless is a privilege and being a pastor to them is my greatest joy... They are God’s children, who are broken by life and as a result they break and hurt others. I realised that there is no darkness or brokenness that the light of Christ cannot penetrate." (The Revd Naomi Kaiga)
"With sentencing comes a whole mix of problems for many, especially issues concerning family, bereavement and resettlement. The chaplains play an important part in supporting prisoners. In the name of Christ and the light of life we listen, care and offer prayers. Many residents ask for prayer, not only for themselves but also for their family back at home, and the lighting of a small candle is a potent symbol, enabling us to focus on the light of Christ in all situations and need." (Stephen Caley)
"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." (Deacon Kathy Lamb)
“As a prison chaplain I am constantly humbled to dare to walk the wings of the prison, what a privilege! Jesus will never stay out of prisons… and sometimes he uses me to listen, educate, comfort, and most of all share the good news of hope to those who are willing to listen. May God continue to bless all prisoners and chaplains and all partakers in the prison ministry.” (Daniella Fetuga-Joensuu)
“Being a prison chaplain is fulfilling because it puts me with people outside the church who are looking for forgiveness and a better way of living.” (Ian Field)
"As a Prison Chaplain I am sometimes privileged to stand with people in their darkest moments and, through God’s grace, to bring light and faith and life." (Clive McKie)
"It’s a privilege, it’s fulfilling, challenging, often humbling, tiring, frustrating. At a conference some years ago, someone said, 'Of course, prison work isn’t for everybody, but if it’s for you you’ll have no peace unless you’re doing it'. That sums it up for me." (Carl Squire)
"Being a prison chaplain means I get the opportunity to work every day with people on the edges of society. It can be difficult ministry sometimes, but the rewards found in walking alongside Jesus with those in extraordinary circumstances cannot be overstated. As a prison chaplain I appreciate the challenge of serving people who are sometimes at their lowest ebb. We never forget the harm that these people have done, but we have a hope that the transformation possible through the love of God is available for all. As a Custodial Manager (now a serving Prison Chaplain) once said "once a man learns to love his neighbour as himself, he will not rob him, rape her, or sell their children drugs again." (Bob Wilson)
"Being a prison chaplain means I care for the spiritual welfare of residents and staff of any and every faith and no faith. I do statutory duties, meeting residents within 24 hours of their arrival for a pastoral conversation, visiting all the residents in the Healthcare unit and the Vulnerable Prisoners wing daily and caring for residents who are at risk of serious self-harm and suicide. I also run a course called Living with Loss which is for any who have suffered loss or bereavement. In addition, there are faith-based activities such as worship, Bible study and prayer. I often find myself praying with people regardless of their faith or lack of it. It's a privilege to be a prison chaplain because I meet people of every nationality and faith who would never darken the doors of a church. I hear their stories and frequently see God at work." (Caroline Weaver)
"As a Methodist Presbyter involved in prison chaplaincy I have the awesome privilege of witnessing God bring wholeness, hope and beauty from the broken fragments of lives, including my own." (James Bamber)
Comforting the prisoner
Loss and grief are experiences shared across humanity. But for prisoners they can be particularly stressful and poignant: the difficulty of contact with a loved-one in the last stages of life and with family at the time of bereavement; the inability to attend the funeral; the often complex relationships involved; the need to be seen to be coping amongst fellow prisoners…
Often prisoners come across to the chapel to light a candle and for a ‘quiet time’ around the time of a funeral or on the anniversary of a death – irrespective of their faith commitment or lack of it.
Every November, we organise a multi-faith event, increasingly valued, with readings from a variety of traditions, the writing down of names of people to remember, silence, candle-lighting, and a shared statement of gratitude and commitment.
There are tears, there is empathy, there is togetherness across religious divides, there is God.
Kevin Hooke (prison chaplain)
Day in the life of a prison chaplain0800
arrive at prison, meet with multi-faith team. Pick up any messages from through the night. These could include information about self-harm, death of relatives of prisoners, or messages from worried family members. At this point the team will also work out how many prisoners were admitted the previous day and agree who will go to see them. The plan for the day is shaping up.
meet prisoners on their way to work; managing chaplain will often go to attend Governor's daily briefing
embark on priority work - this will include visiting all prisoners who have arrived in the last 24hrs, visiting healthcare, visiting the special care and segregation unit and seeing prisoners vulnerable to self harm.
breathe, remember to breathe... then paperwork for volunteers' coming into the prison, religious registration, Chaplains log, etc....
lunch; maybe a staff prayer meeting / pastoral work with staff
begin preparations for afternoon; catch up with rest of team on how things are going, prepare for up-coming events eg Sunday worship
meet prisoners on way to work in afternoon. Often afternoons are used for more structured work, eg. One to one support, resettlement work, pastoral visits, victim awareness and other structured courses, etc....
evening activities. Bible studies, meditation classes, fellowship groups, music practice, informal support groups etc.... often involving management and supervision of chaplaincy volunteers.
time of prayer? Ensure that any issues raised during the evening are followed through eg. Prisoners feeling vulnerable, security issues, family concerns. Complete chaplains log.
Check chapel is secure and go home!
...not to mention breaking bad news, marrying prisoners, arranging religious festivals, praying with people (staff and prisoners), having discussions about faith, escorting volunteers, ordering tea and coffee, loaning books, blessing rosary beads, hearing heartbreaking stories, attending equality / security / management meetings...
The Revd Bob Wilson
These external links may also be of interest:
Interview: Jo Calladine, prison chaplain (Church Times)
Prison Chaplains and the Pandemic - Responses to Covid-19
Keeping the faith: Christian chaplains in the time of Covid
Faith Behind Bars
You will find contact details on our Chaplaincy Contacts page.
Images of the Revd Bob Wilson and the Revd Naomi Kaiga: © Robin Prime, Mark Kensett, TMCP