You will possibly know that I recently announced to the people at Land’s End that God is calling me into a new ministry, as the Managing Chaplain at a Young Offenders Institute near Stoke. A shock to many, and no doubt for those who will miss me others will be saying a hurrah! Such is ministry. You cannot be popular with everyone as the role of a minister is to be obedient to God, and God’s pull upon our lives.
When I came here I knew God to be calling me to be God’s gatekeeper here, keeping the gates of the church open to all, but also standing guard against that which is not of God, nor healthy and good for us all. It has been a rewarding and challenging ministry. There have been lots of adventures, and laughter, lots of pasties and cream teas. At times there have been sadness and tears as we walked the road of faith together. Some wonderful people have gone to be with God, and we miss and grieve for them. Some amazing folk have taken their vows before God to love and have faith in each other. The people and place have written themselves into my heart and life, and it is hard to go.
I started my ministry in the church as a lay prison chaplain at HMP and YOI Guys Marsh. For 3 years I ministered and was ministered to by the inmates and staff at the prison. In so many ways they taught this green new Christian about God, faith, hope and redemption in a way that I could not have foreseen. They shaped me and turned me into the person God called into the ordained ministry. I owe them a debt of gratitude, of love.
This new calling is not really new but a return to where I began. And I take with me the experiences and hopes, the adventures and the pains of being a parish priest, I take the prayers and worship, the love and the disappointment of those to whom I have ministered and who have ministered to me. All of which have enriched my life with you.
As I walk into the prison and the doors clang behind me, the locks turn, I will remember that Jesus is before me, and will be behind me. That I am there to offer the love, compassion, truth and prayers that I know Jesus has for the men and women who work in the prison, the children and their families who are imprisoned. In doing so I hope that I can offer a sense of the freedom of the gospel and set free those imprisoned by hate, regret, by anger and hopelessness.
Please pray for us, for one another, for our communities and all in prison, whether at her Majesty’s Leisure or indeed the prisons of pain, anger, bitterness and resentment. We all need to know the freedom of the gospel of truth and love … this is what fuels all our new adventures following God.