prison chaplain’s workshop

I had a good time at the workshop this morning – thanks so much to the chaplains for welcoming me in. If you ever get the opportunity to hang out with prison chaplains, grab it…

In the course of the conversation i realised i need to think more about how to create an environment in prisons that immediately make it obvious that people are coming into a different space when they come to worship – how to turn a room that, 15 minutes before, has been used for drug education or anger management sessions into a sacred space. It’s not just about aesthetics, it’s more atmospheric than that – creating an environment that gives people permission [incentive] to be present differently to how they are present in every other part of their life in prison, from the moment they walk in the door, even before we’ve said a word. We do that all the time with installations, etc – the moment people walk into a room they know something different is going to happen, and that they can be different in that space. It’s much harder in prison where you have so little control over the environment. i also think it’s more important in prison than in any other worship context i work in. We might play around with some ideas next time I go into the Marlborough Unit with Ross.

I confessed to my control-freak nature… i script every word in worship, including instructions – which is not my normal practice for anything else – i didn’t even have a workshop outline written down for this morning, just a vague idea in my head. People are much more likely to ‘lose’ themselves in worship if i’m not stumbling or searching for a word. My task as curator is to be guardian of the space – to make it safe enough for people to be vulnerable. They have to trust me for that to happen, and trust that i’m not going to take them somewhere that is too vulnerable or unsafe. They also have to not be waiting for my next slip up…

We used Alf’s Psalm in the gathering… i asked the group to read it through silently and find a line or two that particularly resonated for them. I read the psalm out loud, and people spoke alongside me when it came their lines. It was surprisingly moving and beautiful.

I also used this prayer, which i’ve put up here before

this is a holy space and a sacred time
not because god is here in any special way –
god is no different in this place
to anywhere else –
but because we are here in a special way

in this space and time
all of who we are
is welcome

so bring the broken, darkest parts of you –
the parts which strive to be beautiful
and those which are nothing but flawed –

put them next to mine

as together,
in this holy space and sacred time,
we let them be shaped
by god.

welcome to worship.


  1. Kel

    well i’m sitting with you on the control freak stool 🙂
    but over the past few years i have lost control over so many parts of my life that i now understand i never really had it to begin with
    i just thought i did

    i love the reminder in this prayer of yours that God is the same everywhere
    the only difference is in us, in our intent
    in our attitude

    i love a prayer that acknowledges our shadows
    yet still says we can be in the presence of God

    that is truth
    which can set us free

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