Monday, 28 January 2008


Today I had a coffee with the Human Resources Manager at the prison, at the end of which he said, "Anne, did you know there's really only one manual you actually need to read cover to cover to work for the SPS?"
"No", I said, wondering which manual would be the one that was so indispensible. Then he said, "I've got a copy here. I'll lend you my copy" and produced a three-stories-in-one book of the BBC tv series Porridge!!!
And he's right, actually. It tells you everything you need to know to work in jail (in the UK anyway). I've always loved Porridge (the series - not porridge the cereal which I think is disgusting along with all cereals which I maintain are of the devil!)... But I never dreamt when I watched it as a kid I'd one day have an inside perspective - thankfully a staff rather than an inmate perspective. And the funny thing is there are almost as many laughs in jail as the series would suggest. Lots of banter amidst lots of angst. And the endless "game" of officers and prisoners (screws and cons) trying endlessly to outwith each other with "measures" verses "dodges"! God gave us a sense of humour partly because He is nice, partly because He's got one Himself, and partly, I'm sure, because it is such a help when we're in horrible places like jail. Incidentally I've worked in a night shelter and a hospice-type day centre in the past too - and in the DSS - and it was the same there - jokes and banter interspersed with tears and trials.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

I got this from Jon Birch's "The Ongoing Adventures of Asbo Jesus", and it just nails an element of some parts of the Church which drives me bananas. Here's what I said about it on the ASBO website:
"Thanks for that cartoon. Can’t you post it to culprits everywhere, like one of those messages with all the letters cut out of newspapers?

Re the subject of healing, some very obvious points for those tumshies (Scottish for turnip) who peddle this lack of faith poison:
1. Quite clearly the statistics on death are very compelling. One out of one dies.
2. So (duh!) how can it always be God’s will to heal? Why don’t any of THEM manage to escape dying of something in the end? CLearly it is NOT always God’s will to heal.
3. Death is horrible (my heart goes out to some of the commenters above whose loss has been made even harder).
4.Human beings like to deny the reality of death. (Have you noticed how people say, “If anything happens to me…”, like there’s a chance it might not?! Therefore I reckon all this business of God definitely wants to heal is borne out of the natural desire to deny that death is inevitable.
5. We don’t believe (at all? enough?) in heaven.

Re the subject of wealth: I SO HATE THOSE GOD CHANNEL MONEY GRUBBING SO AND SOs. My natural delightfulness and placid joyful graciousness (ha ha) evaporates at the mere thought of them…
Hurray! That's better. It does feel so good to "vent your spleen" from time to time!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

A dilemma. He who hesitates is lost? Look before you leap?

On Thursday we were privileged to be present at the ordination and induction to his first charge of our (now ex-) probationer. I am both a daughter of the manse, and a wife of the manse, but with great effort I refrained womanfully from telling him what someone told Jim the night of his induction, "Enjoy this now, son. It's the most popular you'll ever be"!

When I was a divinity student in the early nineties someone gave me the following and I've kept it ever since. It's half very funny, half desperately sad!!
The Preacher's Dilemma
If his address is a few minutes longer than usual: "He sends us to sleep".
If it's short: "He hasn't bothered".
If he raises his voice: "He's shouting".
If he speaks normally: "You can't understand a thing".
If he's away; "He's always on the road".
If he stays at home: "He's a stick in the mud".
If he's out visiting:" He's never at home".
If he's in the manse: "He never visits his parishioners".
If he talks finance: "He's too fond of money".
If he doesn't: "Nobody knows what he's up to".
If he organises a fete: "He wears everybody out".
If he doesn't: "The parish is dead".
If he takes time with people: "He goes on and on".
If he is brief: "He never listens".
If he redecorates the church: "He's spending too much money".
If he doesn't: "He's letting everything go".
If he is young: "He lacks experience".
If he is old: "He ought to retire".
And if he dies?... Well, of course: "Nobody could ever take his place".
This morning I was preaching on Esther and her brave statement as she faced the prospect of going before King Xerxes to plead for her people, "If I die, I die". What courage. And what an antidote to the pessimism of the above, when we tell ourselves, "If I don't please everyone, I don't please everyone. So what?!" It is inspiring to follow Esther's courage, isn't it? And at the same time as we reflect on "The Preacher's Dilemma" perhaps we can hold back a bit more for our judgemental criticisms of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who like us, can't win, but are following not our whims and tastes but what they perceive as God's leading.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Church Without Walls

At the weekend Jim and I and six and a half (I'll explain about the half) members of our church went to the Church Without Walls "Re-energise" conference in Aviemore. The half member is the Roman Catholic husband of one member who we made an honourary member of our church just for the weekend because this was, technically, a Church of Scotland event. But it that conjures up a stuffy dry image for you, then forget I said that! It really was a dynamic, alive, inspiring and yes, re-energising, weekend. (A bit de-energising too because of the up-to-the-wee-small-hours chats in the bar at the end of each day!)

I went back to work with renewed enthusiasm this week, and thinking less about what I was going to do and more about wondering what God was planning to do and praying I'd be vigilant to spot where HE is at work. It's such a blessed relief, isn't it, when God gently reminds us (YET AGAIN) that it's His work not ours. I don't have to take God into prison. He managed to find His way in all by Himself long before I came on the scene. What a relief! On the other hand, without taking any of that back, it's okay to feel a burden. Not the burden of carrying the responsibility of the thing, but the burden of compassion. It's okay, indeed necessary, surely, to feel the burden of concern for the lost, to long for their coming to faith, to be inspired to pray and to seek and to take opportunities. It's even okay - more than okay - to love them, though that doesn't seem a civil-servanty thing to say and I know we are government employees! But that's a different thing from feeling crushed by the weight of concern for 500 men and imagining that I am responsible for all their relationships with God. They and God have primary responsibility. But I'll be accountable for the times when to be honest the compassion's gone and the praying's not happening.

For those non Church of Scotland folk reading this, by the way, Church Without Walls, the logo of which is above, is the title of a marvellous report that was produced in 2001 and is now less a report than a movement. It encourages the Church of Scotland congregations to think out of the box, or more accurately out of the building, and break down any barriers they have allowed to build up which make church so alien to the people around it that it is virtually inaccessible.

Prison chaplaincy certainly take the church of Jesus Christ out of the walls of the church and try hard to break down barriers of culture and understanding. On the other hand there are great big physical walls in most prisons. So I reckon we are "Church Without Walls And Yet With Great Big Walls"!!!

Friday, 4 January 2008

If that was Christmas we've had it.

I've had these Christmas slippers for about twenty years now, but because they only come out for one month of the year they're still showing no signs of wearing out!! They are showing signs of being taken over by my oldest though!

Well, I've just experienced my first Christmas and New Year in jail, though thankfully not as an inmate. I've always really enjoyed the festive season but then I've always had family stuff and parties and socialising and presents and cards and food and drink and decorations and trees (yes trees plural in this house). Now I've met a portion of the population who by and large see Christmas as something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Many didn't get a single Christmas card. Not all of them have no relatives, but rather, over the years of addiction and crime, they've alienated all of them so that they're not in contact at all, even with their own children. The regime in prison over Christmas is quiet, with less to do than usual. On the other hand if Christmas in jail was wonderful they might be less inclined to want to stay out when they get out!

For us as a family we've had a mixed time. The kids got a great haul of stuff from Santa and the relations and we had a great time at my brother's on Christmas Day, playing with their baby twins. But we've had several bereavements too - two or three from church, one relative and one good friend.

However, Christmas is about light shining in the darkness. Winter in Scotland is pretty dark, but now we're past the shortest day (ironically my birthday!) and there will soon be the promise of spring. How much more wonderful that the Light of the World has come too, and all the dark places we sometimes have to inhabit can be flooded with His light. These people I mentioned, who have died, who we will miss, are now somewhere where artificial light isn't needed at all, where the light of Jesus is everywhere, all the time, and there is no more sadness, or pain, or indeed death.

Please pray with me that the prisoners (and staff too) I see at work, could, in 2008, see the light, and then move from darkness into it.