Welcoming prison leavers: the love of Jesus and that of the church
The number of churches supporting prison leavers is growing, says The Welcome Directory, a multi-faith organisation equipping faith communities in this area. By Amelie Taylor
“It wasn't just the love of Jesus that captured me, but also the love of the church.”
Last February The Baptist Times published an article by The Welcome Directory, a multi-faith organisation equipping faith communities to support and offer welcome to prison leavers. Since then, The Welcome Directory has doubled in size, from 140 to a total of 282 faith communities now onboard.
‘This is so encouraging; that in the space of 18 months, including a period during which churches too were impacted by the pandemic, more and more churches are joining us on this journey, declaring that prison leavers are welcome and accepted,' said Emily Green the Project Manager of The Welcome Directory.
'I had the pleasure of attending the Baptist Assembly in May this year, meeting many ministers and sharing about the work we do. While this rate of growth is exciting, we know that we have far more work to do to better serve Baptist prison leavers, ensuring that wherever they resettle, they will find a welcome.'
We recognise that the pandemic has had major repercussions on both churches and prison leavers, with online services running in place of in-person gatherings at the height of restrictions, providing a valuable way in which to continue worshipping. This has been a lifeline for some, though it has also demonstrated the reality of digital poverty. Many people who leave prison would do so without access to a phone, laptop or Wi-Fi. Bloomsbury Baptist Church has demonstrated the importance of re-establishing their heart for welcome through engagement with The Welcome Directory from March this year.
We recently spoke with Revd Dr Simon Woodman of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, who noted that:
'COVID19 meant that we had to suspend our ministry of welcoming people into the building during the week, but opened the door to discovering other ways of supporting those who are vulnerable and excluded in our city and society - and initiatives such as The Welcome Directory are part of this re-framing of our engagement with those who are vulnerable.'
The Welcome Directory are encouraged that growth in registrations has begun to accelerate now that faith communities are once again able to meet. They are keen to build on the 37 Baptist church registrations and better serve the faith needs of prison leavers who are looking for a local Baptist Church to connect with.
Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church explained that it decided to register with The Welcome Directory 'because we want people facing the transition from 'inside' to 'outside' to know that they can find a warm and supportive welcome with us, as we follow the example of Jesus to care for those who have been imprisoned.'
'As a church in the centre of London we have a long history of engaging with people who have been in prison, many of whom have struggled to re-integrate into society,' it continued.
'We know first-hand of the struggles people face to find acceptance and a new start, and of the risks that they face. Finding a supportive and welcoming community such as a Christian congregation can make all the difference to someone's life and chances of building a hope-full future.'
And it does make a difference. One prison leaver, who regularly supports the Prisons Awareness Course and has been resettled for a long period, recently told us not only about the importance of her personal faith, but also the way that that was demonstrated by the local church. Our best response to the love that Jesus shows to us is to reflect that love to others.
If you would like to hear more about the work of The Welcome Directory or explore how your church could register, please get in touch. The next Prisons Awareness Course begins in the autumn.
This is a short online course in the evening over three consecutive weeks covering the themes of prison, imprisonment and release. The course also provides opportunity to hear first-hand from both prison leavers who share their personal journeys and the experience of prison chaplains working with them.
To register your interest, visit the website or get in touch by email via firstname.lastname@example.org
The Welcome Directory is also a proud sponsor of Prisons Week, which commences Sunday 9 October 2022. This is a week of prayer, supported by all the major Church denominations and the leading Christian organisations in the sector.
To learn more more about this year’s campaign on the theme of thankfulness, or to get involved, visit their website.