The mini maelstroms about Pagans – either in the community or prison – whipped up by media has really made the Pagan/Heathen community sit up and take notice, not that I would say that it was either helpful or constructive reporting. Pagans working within any government body are regulated by them, are bound by the official secrets act, are not authorised to discuss their roles within it, proselytise or talk to reporters. This means that independent reporters either dig into the archives or are reduced to talking to dubious sources for stories, that are neither accurate or informed.
The Pagan Federation has been the endorsing body of Pagan Chaplains in prison for over 30 years, we have had ongoing advertisements for Prison Chaplains in our Magazine and website for nearly all that time. Far from being a new phenomenon, the freedom to practice a religion or belief has been enshrined in law in this country under the Equality Act 2010. However, in the Ministry of Justice, this right has been upheld long before it was enforced.
The Pagan Federation has been in existence for nearly 50 years, in this time, we have been actively involved in Pagan prisoner’s rights to have access to their religion through the dedicated work of volunteers, “Paganism” became the recognised umbrella religion by the Ministry of Justice in prison, as a direct result. Out of respect for, and in recognition that there are many diverse traditions that sit under it, the Pagan Federation has a diverse Pagan Chaplaincy team, with many representing those traditions as would want to join us; This means working together to set high professional and moral standards under a robust code of conduct, pooling expertise and resources.
It has been said that this country is quite “secular” in its approach to Religion, and in the outside world this may seem to be true. In reality, there is a colourful myriad of faiths and traditions that give support to the communities they serve. In prison, faith from any perspective gives hope, without which, many would feel more isolated and alone than some can bear. Prison Chaplaincy is the flagship of Multi-Faith work, it sets an example of collaboration and relationship that is not mirrored anywhere else in the world. It provides an environment where people can safely call themselves by whatever label they want and supported in any changes they would want to make in their lives. This is backed up by the fact that about 90% of Pagans in prison have never been part of any Pagan/Heathen community on the outside.
For the Pagan Federation, the recent published adverts for Pagan Chaplains, shows a recognition of the work we have been doing in prison for decades, but there is a need to prove that all Faith Religions can meet the criteria set out by the MoJ if they are to become employees. This pioneering work has “legitimised” Pagan Chaplain roles in most public sectors and will expand our presence as more prospective employers acknowledge the services we provide. Statistics show that we, as a Pagan/Heathen Community are still growing as a genuine alternative to mainstream Religion and need the support and guidance from ministers of our own faith. It has attracted unwanted attention to a difficult transitional period for all those Pagan – and other – Chaplains that have already been in post across 143 prisons in England and Wales for years. Over the next few months and even into next year, we will see more of these adverts being published, as the majority of existing non – contracted Faith Chaplains compete for contracted positions within the prison service, and rights as employees acknowledged and upheld.
A Pagan Prison Chaplaincy Role
Each Prison has a “multifaith” chaplaincy department run by a Managing Chaplain who has overall responsibility. As a team, Chaplaincy will support any person, prisoner, or staff, that may require our services and it is not just for those of our own faith. In any given day we may be asked to visit someone who has suffered a bereavement or sit with someone who is feeling particularly isolated, offering a listening ear or other pastoral care.
We also have statutory work that needs to be done on a daily basis and Pagan Chaplains are rostered in routinely. There is some structure to the day, but by and large every shift is different, requiring Chaplains to make decisions and get involved with a variety of tasks, as Managers in their own right, or sign posting to other more specialised teams. Although Chaplaincy is made up of personnel from many faiths, it is more probable that only 3 or 4 Chaplains may be covering on any given day. Solo work is regularly carried out on the prison wings but other staff will always be on hand if needed.
Our faith groups all meet on a weekly basis (pre COVID) and Pagan Chaplains are required to prepare educational worksheets, seasonal rituals, guided meditations etc. as part of their corporate worship. It is not unheard of, under certain circumstances, that they may even be asked to temporarily facilitate in with another faith group.
Regular updating of records and liaising with other departments means that Chaplains need to be able to communicate effectively at all levels and familiarising themselves with policies and procedures within the prison. We are a vital link both within the prison estate and the community, participating in the rehabilitation of people without judgement.
As positive role models, ambassadors, and a resource, the role of Pagan Chaplain is a demanding one, but it is rewarding work. We bring a more colourful perspective and in the main are respected by prisoners and staff alike. Training in the prison service is second to none and Chaplaincy teams welcoming, assistance is given at every stage of your development.
We have an active writing ministry for those prisoners seeking contact with someone from the Pagan/Heathen community, but this pandemic has seen a sharp rise in those reaching out for extra support and we are in need of more people to meet demand.
Community Chaplains & “welcoming” groups
We have tried for many years to engage with the MoJ in the rehabilitation of people coming out of prison, but due to our inability to stay in contact for security reasons, safeguarding and a lack of a “joined up” network, many slip through anonymously into dubious or undesirable parts of the Pagan/Heathen community. It is our aim to change this by asking for contacts, people, or groups (not just from the Pagan Federation) that will act as either Community Chaplains or “welcoming” groups that will mentor/buddy new seekers coming out of the prison system.
If you are interested in any of these roles, you can email Helene Mobius firstname.lastname@example.org for an application and briefing pack or just more information.