God is faithful through prison chaplaincy

I came to faith in my late 30s, was ordained in my mid 50s, and am loving life as I fulfill my calling as a prison chaplain.

During my time at college I found the academic aspects a significant challenge and continued to consider ‘so what?’ What about us feet-on-the-ground people following Jesus? I was asked to come alongside a guy who turned up at our placement church, completely out of the blue. A student with significant issues of rejection, isolation, online porn, online shopping, shame. I met with him weekly as we worked through the book of Mark. I encouraged him to make notes of any questions he had—it was like a whirlwind of questions each weekly hour-long session turning into over two hours. I loved it. I was seriously challenged to ensure I stayed close to Jesus and his teaching to encourage this guy out of the depths of his situation. The academic aspect of life came to the fore—feet on the ground. He came to know Jesus as his Saviour and was baptised—whoop whoop!

During training I prayed, ‘Dear Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours,’ that well-known line of scripture (of course it’s not—it’s a line in a Hillsong song!).

I have a past, as they say, and I find that the roller coaster of life events I have experienced are all coming to bear in this role at the prison. It seems nothing has gone to waste in God’s economy. I find my childhood similar to some of the guys inside, and I have come so very close to being an inmate myself in the past.

I daily see God at work in people’s lives, opening their minds to change in a way that seemed blocked, bringing about conversations on forgiveness and reconciliation. The realization that Jesus is for now—not just a heavenly party host for when we die.

Sam, a homeless, regular inmate de to drug addiction, when he was last out found himself freezing cold, praying in the street, and he opened his eyes to a van pulling up with warm clothes and food. He came to prison soon afterwards. I was able to pray with him, encourage him in his faith as he looks to stay clean and engage with a supportive Christian community on release. He knows Jesus is the answer and loves to talk about him.

Dan, a big lump of a body building bloke, found himself at rock bottom, held in the segregation unit, the lowest part of the prison, at the lowest point of his life. He received prophetic words of encouragement; he grew two inches every time he was told he had done something well. He would turn up to the Sunday services, arms folded, wondering why he had bothered to turn up. He ended up bring baptised and giving his testimony in a service. Not a fully fixed sort of member of society yet (who is?), but fully saved in the name of Jesus.

So many stories of desperate men finding a loving God.

God opened so many doors for me to be appointed in this role, he has equipped me for it, and my heart breaks for the men I come alongside. I regularly cry with and for them. Why would I be anywhere else?

I was given this passage framed by my tutor Dr Justin Stratis as I left college: ‘Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching’ (2 Timothy 4:2). It is a mandate for me in the parish as well as in the prison. Oh, and Jesus always gets a mention.

–Revd Cliff McClelland (Trinity 2016) is Anglican Chaplain at HMP Winchester

If you are a member of the Trinity community, past or present, share a story of God’s faithfulness from your life, so we can encourage each other: comms@trinitycollegebristol.ac.uk.

Read the stories collected during lockdown here.

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