What does the Rector do?
This week in a short series of blogs I’m offering a few reflections on some of the ministry I’ve been involved with during the week:
Visiting a prisoner: Visiting the sick, those in hospital and those in prison is a very important part of a parish priest’s pastoral ministry. Visiting in prison requires a particular care, and preparation. My visit today took me to Wymott Prison, between Chorley and Southport. Travelling there, waiting and then the procedures for entry were, as usual, quite time consuming and a little tedious. As I wait I look around in the waiting room. I am moved by the dedication of family members to visit relatives or friends. Some of the visitors are elderly and frail, some are mothers with small children.
I find my role as parish priest visiting in prison has different aspects. I wish to check the prisoner is managing alright in the prison conditions and if there is practical help needed. Prisoners are often very isolated – the person I was visiting had not had a visit for several months.
The priest (or indeed any representative of the local church) visiting can be a sign of connection with the home area, and a comfort and a reassurance, a sign of hope. The priest is not there to judge – rather to show care and if appropriate spiritual care. Prisoners, who may be very vulnerable, often value a prayer being said with them, or the assurance that prayers are being offered. Of course much of the visit is spent simply in chatting in a relaxed way – that in itself can be a gift to the prisoner. The visit can be two way. The prisoner apart from the outside world often has thoughts or insights to share arising from the experience of imprisonment. It is surprising how much laughter there can be on visits.
Today in the queue of those waiting to leave was a young lady who had been visiting a boyfriend. She was angry and weeping. In strong language among the tears she was saying he had been horrible to her on the visit. An older lady prison officer on duty quietly came across and comforted her, saying ‘They can be like that at times, they don’t often mean it…’ The two chatted and the young lady’s tears stopped, and the two parted, going off in different directions, probably never to meet again. However, in the willingness of the prison officer to step a little out of role and chat for those few minutes I had seen the Holy Spirit at work.