100s of Christmas gifts donated to prisoners

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After 14 months, Journey into Light the art exhibition has come to an end, but the journey continues for many who are feeling brokenhearted and lost in our prisons and communities. 

The final exhibition and thanksgiving service at St George’s, Stockport was a fitting finale to the exhibition that has inspired and challenged those who have seen it.

St George’s choir sang as visitors enjoyed the artwork for one last time and Archdeacon Ian Bishop led the thanksgiving service in which prayers were offered for those in prison and for all those that work alongside them. 

Hundreds of Christmas gift bags, donated generously by parishes from across the diocese, were gathered under the Christmas tree during the service. Some have already been delivered to HMP Thorn Cross, and the rest will be delivered to prisoners at HMP Styal and HMP Thorn Cross in time for Christmas.

Archdeacon Ian said: “The Christmas gifts show to those in prison this Christmas, just how much the people of the Diocese of Chester love them, are thinking about them, are praying for them and are wanting the very best for them as their futures unfold."

He added: “Too easily we de-humanise people in the criminal justice system but each is an individual with hopes and dreams, struggles and challenges. As we were reminded in the service this evening, we serve a God that identifies with prisoners. That identification challenges us to dare to see him in the lives of those behind bars.”

The chaplaincy team from HMP Styal gave a dramatic and challenging presentation of some of the true stories they had heard from the women they support in prison and challenged parishes to reach out with compassion to tackle stigmatisation of people leaving prison. 

Managing Chaplain at HMP Styal, Lisa Davies, says: "We expect everybody to conform to the ways of our church, and actually, if you’ve never been in a church before, you don’t know to stand up, you don’t know to sit down, you don’t know the etiquette. If you’ve just got out of prison, your self-esteem is rock bottom. Don’t expect everybody to be like you, we need churches that are prepared to walk alongside people.”

This is a message echoed by Tim Mycock, UK Prisons Manager at The Message Trust, an organisation that helps young people find Jesus in prison and assists prisoners and ex-offenders with housing and jobs. He urged parishes to rise to the challenge and reach out to ex-offenders through effective everyday support. He says: “The places where we’ve seen the Christian discipleship journey work the best from prison, is where a couple of individuals from church have shown a real and genuine interest in the individual being discipled and have gone the extra mile. Spending time drinking a coffee, reading scripture, praying for them, helping to budget, going to the supermarket and doing some shopping, these are all real practical things that can help somebody feel loved and cared for, and that they belong.

“We’ve got a responsibility, collectively, to support people coming back into the community and to help people become the children of God that I believe they’re meant to be. Many of us experience ex-offenders wandering into our churches, but we don’t necessarily know they’re ex-offenders. Be friendly, be warm, be genuine to all those who walk through the door.”

The art exhibition of some 40 pieces, all produced by prisoners in HMP Styal and Thorn Cross, toured the Diocese of Chester between October 2018 and December 2019. Forty churches hosted the exhibition and an estimated 6000 people viewed it.

The title of the exhibition was inspired by a painting by ex-prisoner David Ashbrook. It uses indigo and streaks of blue oil paint on canvas to create a painting of a well-worn staircase rising between darkened walls and leading towards a white light filtering in from around a corner.

David’s life was marked by unsettled teenage years and young adulthood which led to a life sentence in prison. He eventually found forgiveness, and later discovered peace in faith and an extraordinary gift for painting. It was these two things that helped him through the sentence. On his release, David focused upon hope and renewal and was starting to share this message of love through his artwork when his life was tragically cut short in a car accident in 2008.

At the conclusion of the exhibition, Ian Bishop reflected on the signature piece, he said: “David Ashbrook’s painting will remain in the forefront of my mind for a long time. In the moments of darkness, I will dare to believe that the light continues to shine, even if at times it is just around the corner.”


The signature piece by David Ashbrook

 

 


Page last updated: 18th Dec 2019 3:36 PM