Ecumenical visit highlights value and importance of prison chaplaincy
Published on 22 January 2024 4 minutes read
The Moderator of the General Assembly and a Catholic Archbishop visited the country's national facility for women in custody.
Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton and Most Rev Leo Cushley, Roman Catholic Archbishop and Metropolitan of St Andrews and Edinburgh, were welcomed to HMP & YOI Stirling.
The establishment replaced HMP & YOI Cornton Vale when it opened last year, and was the third new facility for women, with the Bella and Lilias Community Custody Units (CCUs) opening in Dundee and Glasgow respectively, in 2022.
Along with the bold and groundbreaking Strategy for Women in Custody 2021 - 2025, this has changed how the Scottish Prison Service manages women in its care.
The strategy outlines a trauma-informed and person-centred approach, founded on the principle that all aspects of the care of women in custody should be designed for, and take account of, their likely experience of trauma and adversity.
HMP & YOI Stirling is a smaller and better equipped facility than its predecessor. Women move from there to the Bella and Lilias CCUs, which are the first of their kind anywhere in the UK, where they prepare for release and a return to their communities.
The ecumenical visit on Friday also gave the Moderator and the Archbishop the opportunity to see the prison chaplaincy service, which offers spiritual and pastoral support and guidance to those in custody of all faiths and none.
God's transformative love
Mrs Foster-Fulton said: "It was a great privilege to visit HMP & YOI Stirling to meet staff and some of the women and hear first-hand about the good work that goes on.
"People from all walks of life find themselves in prison for a wide variety of complex reasons and as a society we need to move on from judgment, from wagging our fingers and shaking our heads.
"We believe that God's presence can break into the darkest of cells and uses us to demonstrate that loving presence to one another.
"Church of Scotland representatives serve as chaplains in prisons across the country, providing pastoral and spiritual care for the whole of the prison population.
"Jesus said ‘I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me'.
"Chaplains form a strong link between the communities inside and outside, supporting families and caring for those most in need, helping them to discover purpose and meaning and develop the resources to live a fulfilled life."
Archbishop Cushley said: "Chaplains play an important role in prisons across Scotland in helping with the wellbeing and spiritual direction of prisoners.
"Sally and I were keen to visit HMI &YOU Stirling and we are impressed with the facilities provided and the steps taken to ensure the care of women in custody."
The Moderator and Archbishop also visited the facility's visitor centre which is run by the local faith based charity, Forth Valley Inclusion (FVI).
They were warmly welcomed by Dan Gunn, chair of the group, who explained the dedicated and innovative work carried out by staff and volunteers, who seek to make the process easier and more enjoyable for families.
"Every effort is made to support families at a critical time in a range of unique and responsive ways which are much appreciated and valued," he said.
"FVI, while principally funded by Scottish Government, receives vital ongoing support from neighbouring churches of all denominations."
Pastoral support is critical to the rehabilitation process and FVI is seeking new volunteers at the visitor centre.
Paula Arnold, Governor of HMP & YOI Stirling, said: "We were delighted to welcome the Right Reverend Foster-Fulton and Archbishop Cushley to HMP & YOI Stirling to see our establishment and the important work staff are doing here.
"We value our partnerships with the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland, and the important role that chaplains play in supporting people on their personal journey in custody.
"Relationships, including those based on religion and faith, are key to supporting the wellbeing of our women and helping them towards happier and healthier futures."
In 2022, the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland formally signed an historic declaration of friendship known as the St Margaret Declaration.
It describes the Churches' shared beliefs, ‘rooted in the Apostles, Christ's first disciples,' and acknowledges a common heritage as Christians in Scotland.
The declaration recognises the divisions of the past, apologises for the hurt and harm caused and seeks to make amends, asserting ‘we repent and ask forgiveness of one other.'
It is accepted that some divisions between the Churches remain challenging and more work is needed on reconciliation and healing.
Nevertheless, both Christian denominations say that what they hold in common is far greater than what divides them, and they commit to continue working towards greater unity.
Churches around the world are curently marking the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - an event that takes place over eight days between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul.
The annual event, which first began in 1908, is designed to strengthen the ecumenical ties between denominations and encourage a sense of mutual support.