What is Prison Chaplaincy?

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1 Sep, 2021

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What is Prison Chaplaincy?

As we continue our series looking at different forms of Chaplaincy, Graham Bell, Chaplain at HMP Glen Ochil and minister of St. Ninians Community Church in Stirling provides some insight into the role of the prison chaplain.

Scotland continues to have one of the highest prison rates in Europe, with approximately 7,500 prisoners at any one time. Over 2,000 of these are still awaiting trial.

Despite what some newspapers would have us believe, prison is a painful experience for most. The prisoner population itself is not representative of the general population; males, mental health issues, illiteracy and experiences of childhood trauma (to name a few) are all over-represented.

So, what is the role of the chaplain in all of this?

First and foremost, chaplains are there to ensure that prisoner’s human rights to practise religion are observed, both for those who have a religion, and for those who are curious.  It is probably safe to say that the majority of prisoners who attend groups would fall into the ‘unchurched’ category. There is therefore great opportunity and challenge here – to aid prisoners on their faith journey, sharing the good news of a different king and kingdom, but doing so in a way that is relevant to the life experiences of those attending. Covid has opened up the possibility for many chaplaincy teams to broadcast services directly into prison cells, and take up of this seems to be high.

Secondly, most of our time is spent in pastoral work, mainly of prisoners, but also of staff. Life for prisoners goes on even while they serve their sentence.  Over and above the pains and stresses of prison life, prisoners also face illness and death, of themselves or loved ones, guilt and trauma from the past and fear for the future. Many long for change but feel caught in a life which they cannot escape.

Chaplains seek to represent the church, offering confidential, non-judgemental, person-centred support, offering hope and demonstrating love, to some of the “least of these”. Please remember prison chaplains in your prayers!

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