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"I was in prison and you came to visit me"

by Michael Ford last modified 23 Oct, 2019 01:07 PM

Prisons Week is held every year in October and it is a chance for churches to pray for all those in prison - both those incarcerated and those who serve there.

"I was in prison and you came to visit me"

The Verne - original photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

It is a important week in the life of those who serve as chaplains in our prisons, but they are keen to stress that prayer for prisoners and staff could be something churches could do every week of the year, not just one.

Before she retired, Carole Goddard, now a Licensed Lay Minister at St Aldhelm's Branksome was a chaplain in Chelmsford Prison in Essex.

She now volunteers as a part-time chaplain at the Verne prison on Portland and here she talks about why she felt called to serve God in our prisons.

"The Verne is a Training Prison for Men Convicted of Sexual Offences, and the atmosphere is somewhat more relaxed than it was at Chelmsford which was a higher category.

"People ask - How can I work with sex offenders?

"These men have already been judged in court and sentenced. Ultimately they will have to face God’s judgement too. It is not for me to judge them or to feel revulsion, and for this reason I choose not to find out exactly what the men have done.

"I need to accept them as they are for although they have made some terrible decisions, they are still human beings just like us and they have the same needs that we have – food, clothing, shelter, warmth, acceptance and love. Sadly, if understandably, former loved-ones frequently wash their hands of these men and they have few visits. At least the Chaplaincy team can offer acceptance.

"It is the duty of each prison to look after prisoners with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release. If you have been watching ‘Inside Prison: Britain behind bars’ on Thursday evenings you may recall a wonderful female officer who, despite having been seriously hurt by an inmate, said on her return from sick-leave, "Society washes its hands of these guys – I don’t want to do that." Now that is a real Christian sentiment!

"In Matthew 25:36-40 Jesus says: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink... I was in prison and you came to visit me... Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ That is what I am called by God to do.

"In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul makes it clear that there are no ‘no go’ areas for God’s grace, forgiveness and restoration because we are all sinners, whilst Luke 7: 36-50 reveals the paradox of grace: sin is never a good thing, and yet those whose sins have been greatest are potentially those whose lives can most abundantly declare the goodness and forgiveness of God. So God will forgive us our unkind thoughts if we ask, but He will also forgive the murderer, the rapist and the paedophile.

"Can you imagine how it must feel to know that God has forgiven you for committing a terrible crime?

"It was grace that freed Zacchaeus from his greed, the prostitute from her clients and Matthew from his profession. With the most gracious words and tender gestures, he helped them to know their true value and gave them hope for a better future.

"The mercy and grace of Jesus were the means by which they knew themselves to be sinners; but more precisely, forgiven sinners. The love of God is always generous if not extravagant, and can evoke radical changes in the hearts and minds of all so that as the hymn-writer says; ' the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.'"

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