Friday, October 08, 2010

The chapel at HM Prison, Brixton... a fine building, Victorian gothic, great carved beams, hugh arched windows. A number of us were brought there - via massive security, much unlocking of doors and guiding through courtyards along walls crowned with rolls of barbed wire - for a presentation by PACT, which is seeking volunteers to help with its (excellent) scheme for assisting and befriending prisoners on completion of their sentence. There was a generous buffet lunch,and then we gathered for hymns and prayers and a talk from Archbishop Vincent Nichols. I often despair of my country, but it is something to live in a land where the governor of a prison can pray and sing "Praise to the Holiest..." and "Amazing grace" with a group of his prisoners, an Archbishop, sundry clergy from all denominations, and a wide range of people from all sorts of charitable and volunteer organisations. A team of young prisoners led prayers, and we chatted to them afterwards over tea and a good range of excellent cakes.

The chapel has been carefully adapted so that it can now be used by all denominations. From the Catholic point of view, it is really good - a great Crucifix over the main sanctuary, with Stations of the Cross on the wall behind it, and a statue of Our Lady All these could be covered with a curtain if required, but are clearly generally on view. The main part of the church is now carpeted and has soft-seated chairs and the walls are painted white, and a side wing is devoted to a music-area for choirs and bands, with a table full of Christian literature. It's all very obviously in regular use, and the prisoners to whom I chatted were part of a team of men involved in a range of Chapel-based activities. Another side wing is sectioned off with panelling and does not form part of the chapel - it is set aside for Moslem worship.

I met members of the ACW who are already active with support for prisoners and ex-prisoners and I think we should seek to expand this. A valuable and thought-provoking afternoon.

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