A Baptist minister appeared on “Songs of Praise,” a long-running religious program on British television, recently as churches across the United Kingdom were encouraged to focus on everything related to prisons.
Rev. Bob Wilson is the Free Churches Group (FCG) secretary for prison chaplaincy – he’s the first Baptist to serve in the role – and was interviewed by host Aled Jones as the program marked the start of Prisons Week 2012.
Explaining the Christian mandate to minister to those in our prisons, Wilson referred to Matthew 25.
“God is essentially everywhere; he’s just as much in here as he is out through the gates on the other side,” Wilson said.
“They have failed God, humanity, their victims and community in a serious way. But I don’t think God is surprised at what they did; I think God knows all of us.
“Jesus, in Matthew 25, is really, really clear when he says, when you look through the eyes of prisoners, you see me. He says ‘For whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did also for me.’
“I often think when I look into the eyes of prisoners, I see Jesus.”
As well as his role as FCG secretary, Wilson remains a prison chaplain one day a week in Wayland, a men’s prison in eastern England, where “Songs of Praise” was filmed.
Wilson was also shown leading a service in Wayland, praying with a prisoner, and speaking on “true forgiveness.”
Forgiveness needs to be accompanied by a sense of remorse, but it’s also “misunderstood,” Wilson said. Forgiveness is not about letting people off. “As crime is about hurting people, there has to be an element of punishment.”
“But there also has to be an element of how does that person change, so they don’t hurt someone again.”
Prisons Week was formed in 1975 to pray for and raise awareness of the needs of prisoners and their families, victims of offenders, prison staff and all those who care. It is always the third week of November.
The theme for this year’s Prisons Week came from Psalm 16:11, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
It runs until Nov. 25, and a series of focus and prayer points are available in the Prisons Week leaflet, Taking the Path of Life.
These begin with the victims of crime, those who work in prisons, the families of prisoners or those of their victims, all those in prison, and finally, members of communities.
Everyone using the resources is encouraged to “ask yourself whether there is one thing that you as an individual or as a church can do to assist in any of the above.”
Wilson encouraged all churches to have Prisons Week on their radar, adding “Above all, please pray for all those affected by imprisonment during Prisons Week.”
This is the Prisons Week prayer:
“Lord, you offer freedom to all people. We pray for those in prison. Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist. Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends, prison staff and all who care. Heal those who have been wounded by the actions of others, especially the victims of crime. Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly together with Christ in his strength and in his Spirit, now and every day. Amen.”
This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.
Follow Prisons Week on Twitter