‘Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again: Rejoice! … The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…’ (Philippians 4:4-6)
As well as the privilege of being Bishop of Gloucester, I also have the additional privilege of being Anglican Bishop for His Majesty’s Prisons in England and Wales, and last Sunday was Prisons Sunday at the start of Prisons Week (www.prisonsweek.org). The theme this year is Thankfulness, and it was good to explore that during the Eucharist at HMP Ashfield in the Diocese of Bristol.
The Gospel reading set for Prisons Sunday was that of Jesus Christ’s healing encounter with ten men with leprosy and the one who came back to say thank you (Luke 17:11-19). During a time of reflection, I invited the men in the chapel to write or draw things on a wall of thankfulness. Repeated words were about families and forgiveness, and someone wrote in large capital letters ‘LIFE’. Inevitably, it immediately reminded me of our diocesan vision of ‘LIFE Together’ rooted in Jesus Christ’s words, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’. (John 10:10)
The desire for perpetrators and victims of crime to know Christ’s life in all its fullness sits at the heart of my work as Bishop for Prisons, whether it be conversations with prisoners about new possibilities and potential, or whether it be speaking out on the reforms needed across our criminal justice system, which I see as facing a number of crises.
There are many situations both local and global which are continually named as crises. At present, those include war in Ukraine, famine in East Africa, the cost of living and the climate. Yet even amid turbulence, anxiety and uncertainty, God’s love and faithfulness are unchanging and we can be thankful. The Word became flesh and lived among us, and nothing can undo the resurrection. God’s kingdom is here, and God’s kingdom is coming, and nothing can change that. So, it is that we can be thankful and rejoice even amid the mess, pain and struggle, as we seek to join in with God’s work of transformation.
May it be so for us this week. May it be so for all those whose lives are impacted by crime, whether victims and survivors of crime; offenders; families and friends; and all who work across the criminal justice system.
And finally, if your worshipping community is open to being a place of hope for all, then please consider signing up with the Welcome Directory: www.welcomedirectory.org.uk. I am very thankful for this wonderful resource which points people coming out of prison to faith communities who will welcome them. Sadly, at present, only a small percentage are Anglican places of worship.
As ever, this letter comes with my thanks for our partnership in the gospel.