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. In one of our prisons alone, there have been ten baptisms in the last three years! 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.
The chaplain also writes: 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. I wonder if the local parishes would help us to provide these presents? It does not have to be anything big or expensive just a little something. I would also like a few packets of Christmas Cards, nativity etc, so that the men could send a card to their families
- At Aylesbury Young Offenders, 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. The team there often operate like temporary surrogate aunties/uncles/grandparents for the young men who come from very difficult backgrounds.
- 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.
Another way is to celebrate Prisoners’ Sunday which is coming up on 14th October 2019. 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.