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Christmas Day with our Bishops

Thursday 9th January 2020

Both our Bishops were in prison on Christmas Day – meeting inmates who can feel desperately separated from families at such a joyful time.

Bishop Martin was at Warren Hill Prison on the Suffolk coast, a male prison which provides education and skills training for prisoners rehabilitation, and at the nearby category D Hollesley Bay prison for men.  

Bishop Martin said: “Visiting people in prison is one of the key marks of the Christian life, along with feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and welcoming strangers.  Men and women in prison can quickly feel isolated and cut off from the rest of society, and worse than that, feel treated as less than human beings.  We visit because we are human beings too, children of God, and we all know that with a change of circumstances, or a momentary lapse, we could be there too.  We visit because, in my experience, spending time with prisoners is humbling, and helps us become more honest about ourselves.  A community of prisoners have faced truths about themselves that many of us may not have done, and they are open to change and transformation in ways that we might well try to avoid.  Without idealising prisons, or prisoners, they can be painfully honest places, and so places of immense hope, courage and endurance.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Mike was at HMP Highpoint, Stradishall, a category C including life sentences male prison near Newmarket.  He led a service for about 70 prisoners and then had a cup of tea and mingled 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.  Prison chaplains tell me that having a Bishop in the prison on Christmas day rather than just the chaplain, vital though this is, actually does make a difference to the morale of the prisoners and that at a time when they may most feel cut off and forgotten. 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.”