midwinter worship in the prison

So we leave to go into the night time.

Don’t put your faith in the breaking of day,
although that will come,
but let your faith be that peace can be found, even in darkness
and that love can survive in the longest of nights…

– the blessing from tonight’s midwinter service

Tonight’s most surreal moment was before the service when a couple of the men saw that i had candles with me. I found myself having a conversation with them – these two quite large men, with prison tatts and shaved, scarred heads – about whether we like our candles scented with rose or lavender.

It was a lovely service, with its predictable share of unpredictable moments. We had a couple of psalms in the service – one from the bible, the other written by one of the men from Exeter prison and adapted by Nathan from Port Phillip. I asked whether any of the men wanted to read the first psalm and David, sitting next to me, volunteered. He would have had the reading age of a 6 year old, i guess, and stumbled over every second word. One of the other men, across the room, predicted the stumbling and chimed in with the words that he knew David wouldn’t get, so it became this sing-song reading of the psalm – it was really quite moving and lovely.

And part way through the service Ross switched off the lights, and the service continued just with candlelight. It was really beautiful.

When i was writing the service yesterday i remembered a conversation that the basement space crew had in the booth at the back of the Wesley Anne about what gets us through the longest nights – about how it wasn’t the idea of dawn, it was food and wine and company. I was thinking yesterday how these men don’t choose to be together – they tolerate each other, mostly, and their relationships are more alliances for survival. It would take a miracle to make them company for each other, the kind of community that brings you life – a much more difficult miracle than one that turns bread and wine into body and blood… but you know, as i listened to David stumbling through his reading, and i watched the men lighting candles, and holding the moment for each other as they did, and as we sat in silence and darkness for a long, long moment at the end, i wonder if we didn’t actually get close to that. i’m under no illusions it will have lasted more than 30 seconds after we finished, but maybe we need to honour the tiny moments as being remarkable just in themselves…

This was the communion. it probably won’t win awards with the orthodox police, but it did the job here. The rest of the liturgy from the service is at the end as a pdf:

In communion, we remember the story of the night
before Jesus’ death.

That must have been a long night.

With all the fear and confusion and loneliness
that Jesus and his friends must have felt,
together they found at the table
the food and the company
that would help them survive the night to come.

As the story tells us
On the night before Jesus died,
he had supper with his friends.
He took bread,
thanked God,
broke the bread,
and gave it to his friends, saying:
this is my body, given for you.
Each time you do this, remember me.

After supper he took the wine,
thanked God for it,
and passed it to his friends, saying:
This cup is the new promise God has made with you
in my blood.
Each time you do this, remember me.

We thankyou, God,
that we can remember you in this meal
that this bread and wine
are ways that we can put back together
and make whole
the promise of hope
and peace
that your life offered to us.

We pray, God, that your Spirit will make this bread and wine
signs of life
that we can carry with us
into the night time:

promises that we are not alone,
promises we will not be left empty.

Amen.

The whole liturgy as pdf: ppw_midwinter

2 Comments

  1. Heather M

    Cheryl,
    The prayer you wrote in the cafe at Kinglake could so easily be the prayer of those whom you sat in the midst of as they re-live their recent experiences and seek to make their way forward; the prayer of those who suffer depression or heartache that is deeper than words can describe just as profoundly it became the prayer of the prisoners with whom you have shared it initially. May the God who’s Holy Spirit inspired you then, continue to meet you, and all whom you journey with, blessing you all richly, re-affirming all that it is you seek to undertake as you journey on the outer, or perhaps the deep inner of life where not many of us dare to tread.

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