We have seven prisons within our diocese, including a young offenders’ unit, a therapeutic community, a remand prison, and several long stay prisons. In each of these we have dedicated Catholic chaplaincy teams, combining clergy or lay staff with local volunteers. Prison chaplaincy goes largely unseen, but is very important to the men who access it, being a source of spiritual comfort and pastoral care.
Interview with Deacon Tony Falcon
Deacon Tony had only been a deacon for a few months when out of the blue he received a phone call from Bishop Peter, asking if he would be prepared to take on a chaplaincy role in a young offenders institute in the diocese. After a 40+ year career in NHS management, Deacon Tony thought he had left institutional life for good, but he agreed to give it a go. After six years’ tough but fulfilling ministry he is now preparing to retire for the second time.
Deacon Tony said “These are young men aged 18-21, some of whom are just starting out on very long sentences. They’ve had hard lives, and often come from broken families. I’m like a grandad-figure to them.” His role is partly pastoral, being available to every prisoner for support, for example after the death of a family member. He also provides spiritual outreach to the Catholic prison residents. He says “My job is to help them recognise what they’ve done wrong and find forgiveness from God.”
For the young men in Deacon Tony’s group, the idea of reconciliation and a fresh start is a beacon of hope. So far more than 10 have been baptised, and two more are waiting for the end of lockdown. Deacon Tony has high expectations of the men, and this creates a very special atmosphere in the chapel. “The young men who come through my programme are different people by the time they are baptised. They have the hope of a new beginning.”
Deacon Tony is very grateful to the local priests and the fantastic lay volunteer group for all that they do. When asked what he is going to miss the most, he says the chaplaincy team at the prison, drawn from many denominations and religions, but working closely as a pastoral team on behalf of the prison residents. He leaves with a firm belief: “No matter what you’ve done, no-one is beyond redemption.”
There are two ways to get involved with prison ministry: as individuals and as parish communities.
Our amazing prison chaplaincy volunteers work through building relationships with prisoners, leading Bible study and rosary groups, and providing pastoral care. There are a wide variety of roles available: here are some examples.
- At Grendon (near Bicester), the therapeutic prison community, we are looking for a Eucharistic Minister that could lead a Service of Word and Communion for the men once a month.
- At Springhill (near Bicester), an open category D prison, it would be good to develop a catechesis team that could lead on such things as prayer groups, rosary circles or classes.
- In all of our prisoners we are looking for volunteers who can give at least half a day a week to visiting the young men and participating in the liturgies with them.
- At HMP Onley (not far from Rugby), it would be great to develop a team of musicians who could provide music for a lively Mass once a month.
- At HMP Milton Keynes, the chaplaincy team would love some office support, 2-3 hours a week.
To find out more about any of these roles, contact Avril at the Pastoral Ministry Office and she will put you in touch with the relevant chaplain. Please note, all volunteering within the Prison Service is subject to enhanced Home Office checks and requires regular commitment to build relationships.
Parish communities can also get involved in helping Catholic offenders and ex-offenders. One of the most direct ways is to become a Welcome Directory parish. Often, even when offenders have found great help and support through the chaplaincy, it’s difficult to find churches to continue this support. Welcome Directory parishes have had the training and support to welcome ex-offenders when they come out of prison. There are currently not many Catholic parishes listed, and it would be great to have a network across the diocese. For more information see https://welcomedirectory.org.uk.
The Welcome Directory has a simple yet powerful vision: to help faith communities become places where people who leave prison find acceptance. A place to belong that not only nurtures faith but also offers appropriate practical support.
We hope that engaging with The Welcome Directory will help you to understand that in a deeper way; that those leaving prison have a name, a story as well as hopes and dreams for their lives beyond the prison gate.
Parishes can also get involved with their local prison on a less formal basis.
“At Christmas at Springhill and Grendon we welcome the families of the men for a celebration. At Springhill Father Christmas arrives and each child is given a present. Christmas 2019 saw St Joseph’s parish in Aylesbury provide three overflowing bags of gifts to be given out to prisoners’ children. The Governor, Becky Haywood, wrote to the parish: “Thank you so much to the parishioners of St Joseph and St Clare, Aylesbury, for promoting the need for gifts and toys for the Children’s Day at Springhill Prison. As a result of this, prison residents were able to be with their children as they opened a present from Father Christmas. It was a very positive and enjoyable afternoon with an excellent pantomime put on by our prison residents that kept the children in gales of laughter. Thank you again for your contribution to this enjoyable day.”
Another way is to celebrate Prisoners’ Sunday which is coming up on 11th October 2020. See the PACT website for more information. The Prison Advice and Care Trust is official Catholic charity serving prisoners and their families and also provides opportunities to volunteer. The Prisons Week website also has lots of information and prayer resources which would be excellent for a parish prayer group or for individuals, and you can download their booklet with lots of great resources here:
Parishes can also sign up to support Angel Tree, which provides gifts for prisoners to give to their children at Christmas time. Parishes can either fundraise for a certain number of gifts, or even undertake to buy and wrap the gifts themselves.
Chaplaincy has always been the place where I can get away from everyone and find some peace.
I remember when God came to me.
Silence is a place of great power and healing.
I need a space to explore what is going on in me and my life.