Christmas at HMP Highpoint
Sunday 25th December 2016
The Bishop of Dunwich spent Christmas morning in prison - meeting prisoners who can feel the separation from their families acutely at this time of year.
The Rt Rev Dr Mike Harrison, Bishop of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, was at HMP Highpoint, Stradishall, a category c including life sentences male prison near Newmarket.
Bishop Mike was taking a service for scores of prisoners and then having a cup of tea and mingling with them afterwards.
He said: "Christmas is a time which can be especially hard, when the lack of contact with family and friends is felt especially sharply and there's a more intense sense of isolation.
"In most prisons there's no visiting on Christmas day and prisoners can't send or receive presents, so going in on Christmas Day as a Bishop feels particularly significant, showing inmates they have not been forgotten and that they are not as isolated as they might otherwise feel.
"The message of Christmas is that God is with us, even in the most surprising and unlikely of places. I hope that something of this message will come through to inmates.
"For me, I'm reminded that Jesus identified with the prisoner when he said "when I was in prison you visited me" in the gospel of Matthew."
The Rev Tony Fowler, Chaplain at HMP Highpoint, said: "Most prisoners try to treat Christmas day as any other to help them get through it.
"Therefore the Prisoners who attend Chapel on Christmas morning often find that it is about the only thing that marks it out as being any different to every other day.
"But many of them are able to get a real sense of what Christmas is really all about and feel God's presence in a way they may never have felt before and they feel particularly valued when a Bishop is prepared to spend time with them on Christmas Day."
It has become a tradition at Highpoint prison to invite a bishop to take the Christmas morning service, and staff were particularly thrilled to have Suffolk's new Bishop of Dunwich come in this year.