In the aftermath of the shocking murder of Sir David Amess, I was struck by some words I heard on the radio spoken by Bishop James Jones (Bishop of Liverpool prior to his retirement). He spoke about the way we treat one another and speak of those with whom we disagree, not least those who serve and lead publicly. He spoke of a society that so often lacks mercy.
Mercy is not an easy word to describe or indeed translate.
Different English Bible translations of the 8th verse of Micah chapter 6 use a range of vocabulary but the vocabulary of the Authorised Version is translated as follows and is reflected in one of our frequently-used prayers of confession:
‘And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’
It is a verse I often reflect upon and this week it resonates with some of my thoughts from Prisons’ Week, not least in my role as Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons (interestingly a role once held by Bishop James Jones), and as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC) enters Committee Stage in the House of Lords next week.
Prisons’ Week last week was a time to pray for and focus on all those affected in different ways by the criminal justice system. On Monday I was privileged to give the annual prisons lecture at Liverpool Cathedral (see video below) following a visit to Adelaide House, one of seven Approved Premises for women in this country . Then on Tuesday, I hosted an event in the House of Lords to highlight the need to divert women from the criminal justice system and abolish short term prison sentencing for women with non-violent crimes. One of the speakers was someone called Chloe who shared her own lived experience and her engagement with a local project run by the Nelson Trust. Chloe experienced mercy, kindness and love which kept her out of a prison cell and enabled her to begin to discover her value and become a person of transformation within her family and community.
Following my participation in the second reading of the PCSC Bill in the House of Lords, I have taken the decision to sponsor a number of amendments which will, unfortunately, mean being in the Lords for several days over the next few weeks. At this stage, I truly do not know what the outcome will be and whether any of them will return to the Commons for further consideration, but I do believe that in the midst of all the complexities surrounding criminal justice, my amendments are rooted in both mercy and justice, which are at the heart of the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ.
In this diocese, as we live whatever this next season brings, may we be purveyors of love, justice and mercy as we each play our part in Christ’s body, living the present and shaping the future we desire to see locally, nationally and globally.
Most merciful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
we confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed.
We have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
In your mercy forgive what we have been,
help us to amend what we are, and direct what we shall be;
that we may do justly, love mercy,
and walk humbly with you, our God. Amen.
With my thanks and prayers as ever,