There But For the Grace of God

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When I was in prison, you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:36)
In January, I shall be taking up a new post as Free Church chaplain at the prison that will soon be opening in Wrexham, HMP Berwyn. I’ve been enjoying telling people over the last few weeks that I am “going to prison” and seeing the look on their faces, before going on to explain the circumstances. This appointment represents a new and exciting departure for me. I have served as a church minister for 20 years, 16 years in Cardiff and the last 4 years here in Leeswood. But I have not served in a prison context before. There will be lots of new information to absorb and new skills for me to acquire. The governor recently asked me if I was ‘up for a challenge’. Hopefully, I am.
Jesus spent a great deal of his time with people of ‘ill repute’, who had made wrong and selfish choices. His enemies called him ‘the friend of sinners’. They meant it as an insult. Jesus never excused wrongdoing or minimised its gravity; but he sought to communicate God’s redeeming love to everyone. He believed passionately in God’s ability to change lives. Reconciliation, restitution and renewal were important themes in his life and teaching. He also warned those of us who keep on the right side of the law, against hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
There but for the grace of God, go I’, is a phrase attributed to the Protestant clergyman John Bradford (1510-1555), who uttered the words when seeing criminals being led to the scaffold. For me, the Christian message of grace sits well with the ethos of HMP Berwyn, with its emphasis on rehabilitating offenders.
Please pray for me, as I take up this new role, that I may make a difference, together with the whole team at Berwyn, and help turn lives around. The following prayer was written for Prisons Week, which was held recently:

Lord, you offer freedom to all people.

We pray for those in prison.

Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist.

Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends,

prison staff and all who care.

Heal those who have been wounded by the activities

of others, especially the victims of crime.

Help us to forgive one another.

To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly together with Christ in His strength

and in His Spirit, now and every day. Amen.


Love and God bless,

Rev. James