Quaker Prison Chaplains (QPCs)
Related pages: Prison ministry
The historic Quaker concern for prisons continues today through the contribution of Quakers working within prison chaplaincy teams. At present, over ninety prisons in Britain benefit from a Quaker Prison Chaplain (QPC).
In the early days of Quakerism many Quakers were imprisoned for their beliefs. Ever since, there has been a continuing concern for prisoners, those who work in prisons and the conditions in prison. This was most famously done by Elizabeth Fry but is continued by Quakers today.
Quaker Prison Chaplains work within multi-faith prison chaplaincy teams to offer spiritual support and friendship to prisoners of all faiths and none. QPCs reach out to some of the most vulnerable people in our society when they are very often alone and unsupported within the prison environment. This witness by QPCs also functions as a valuable form of outreach, not just to prisoners and prison staff but others working in chaplaincy teams as well.
What do QPCs do?
The contribution that each individual makes differs enormously. Many QPCs are heavily involved in the day-to-day generic work of the chaplaincy team; others are available for occasional visits to prisoners who register as a Quaker. Most QPCs find themselves in a uniquely positive position to work within a multi-faith chaplaincy team. Quakerism arose from and draws heavily on the Christian tradition, however the Quaker non-credal approach and silent worship often acts as a bridge between different faiths.
Some QPCs might have a particular skill that they are able to make good use of whilst in prison. This can include counselling, creative writing, yoga, alternatives to violence training etc. Others are able to offer their friendship, conversation and a listening ear.
The Prison Chaplaincy Team
The law demands that prisoners have access to a minister of their chosen faith, and prison chaplaincy teams exist to fulfil that task. In reality prison chaplains or ministers perform a much wider pastoral role. Some tasks are easy to define, such as visiting prisoners who are ill or are confined to their cell and ensuring that new or transferred prisoners receive a chaplain visit within 24 hours of arriving in prison. Others are less definable such as providing an external, ‘neutral’ presence around the prison, which is not part of the prison structure. Chaplaincy team members need to be able to provide care and support for prisoners’ individual problems arising from issues such as family problems, bereavement, bullying or self-harm.
“It has made a huge difference to me by becoming a Quaker. I have been able to forgive myself finally and move on. It has given me a new direction and hope for the future. So a real big thank you to [the QPCs] and thank you to all Friends who offer support to prisoners everywhere.”
Quaker Prison Chaplaincy
Area Meetings are responsible for nominating Quakers for service as Quaker Prison Chaplains and supporting them in their work. In addition to this, the work of QPCs is supported centrally.
The Quaker Life Quaker Prison Chaplain Group consists of six to eight serving QPCs and meets three times a year to discuss issues of concern to QPCs and to oversee the work of a Quaker Life (QL) staff member. Two levels of training are provided for QPCs, in conjunction with Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre.
Those wishing to explore their role in prison more deeply are encouraged to participate in a specially adapted ‘Equipping for Ministry’ course, which features a module on prison ministry. Completion of this course also makes the QPC eligible to apply for employment as a co-ordinating or assistant chaplain.
An annual conference is provided for QPCs. Over the course of the weekend participants have the opportunity to hear from experts on issues of interest to them in their service, join others in facilitated group sessions plus opportunities for informal networking, sharing and mutual support.
The Quaker Prison Chaplaincy Group maintains a relationship with the Prison Service Chaplaincy team on behalf of the Yearly Meeting.
“It seems to me that Quakers have a tremendous message of ‘that of God in everyone’. For our very damaged men, what a wonderful way to build on true self-valuing; not just He loves me, but He is in me. Tremendous!”
Quaker Prison Chaplain, February 2006
If you are a member of Britain Yearly Meeting and think you might be able to work within a chaplaincy team to offer friendship and support to prisoners and those working in prison consider talking to your Area Meeting about this service.
Alternatively, consider offering your support, either to a QPC personally or perhaps by accompanying them to Meeting for Worship in prison, if their prison regularly holds one.
173 Euston Road
London NW1 2BJ
Telephone: 020 7663 1143
Work with Quaker Prison Chaplains is overseen by QPSW’s Quaker Prison Chaplaincy Group, which sets policy, determines priorities, and actively supports and engages in the work of promoting Quaker prison chaplaincy within Britain.