Prison Chaplaincy and the PF
The Pagan Federation has been the advisory body of Pagan Chaplains in prison, in one form or another, for over 30 years; we have had ongoing advertisements for Prison Chaplains in our magazine and (later) our 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 was upheld long before it was legally enforced.
For over 50 years, the PF have been actively involved in Pagan prisoners’ right to have access to their religion, firstly through the dedicated work of volunteers and more recently with the employment of Pagan Chaplains within prisons. “Paganism” became the recognised umbrella religion by the Ministry of Justice in prison as a direct result of this work. Out of respect for, and in recognition of the many diverse traditions that sit under this umbrella, the Pagan Federation supports a diverse Pagan Chaplaincy team. This means working together to set high professional and moral standards under a robust code of conduct, pooling expertise and resources. Pagan Prison Chaplains hold personal beliefs from across the variety of Paganisms the PF finds within its membership and the wider community.
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 are a colourful variety 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, be supported to follow a faith path of their choosing, and be supported in any changes they would want to make in their lives.
Over 90% of Pagans in prison have never been part of any Pagan/Heathen community on the outside. Something about the attitude to exploration of personal spirituality and responsibility appeals to people who are trying to find a way forward. Pagan Chaplains are proud to be able to provide a supportive environment and encourage beliefs that offer a path to a life free of crime in the future.
Recent advertisements for Pagan Chaplain vacancies offer contracted hours and the security of a good pension scheme with employee benefits. It is a calling, and requires a certain strength of character – but it can without doubt be a career move offering entry to the Civil Service and all the perks that provides. The pioneering work of the Pagan Federation has made it possible for this vital work to become a legitimised part of the Prison Chaplaincy Service, and further afield into other public sector services such NHS and Universities and Colleges.
As the Pagan population in this country grows – the Census 2021 results show we have more than doubled as a faith group since the previous 2011 census – there will be more need than ever for chaplains who can provide this service to those in need.
The Pagan Prison Chaplaincy Role
Each Prison has a “multifaith” chaplaincy department run by a Managing Chaplain who leads a team of chaplains from a wide range of different faith groups. Chaplaincy will support any person, prisoner or staff member, that requires the services and chaplains do not only support people of their own faith group, but provide pastoral support to anyone of any faith who wishes to see a chaplain. In any given day a visit may be requested by someone who has suffered a bereavement, or someone who is feeling particularly isolated may need a kind listening ear. Maybe a prisoner in the hospital wing needs help to contact their family. Every day is different – and every day makes a difference to their lives.
Prisons also have statutory work that needs to be done on a daily basis such as visiting different wings or new arrivals 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, either 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 probable that only 3 or 4 Chaplains may be in the office on any given day. Solo work is regularly carried out on the prison wings but full professional training and security support is given and other staff will always be on hand if needed.
Pagan faith groups meet on a weekly basis 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 another faith group. It is an incredible opportunity to feel part of a unique support team in a unique environment.
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. Chaplains are a vital link both within the prison estate and the community, participating in the rehabilitation of people without judgement, providing colourful, confident role models and building bridges between faith groups to increase inclusion and understanding.
We have an active writing ministry for those prisoners seeking contact with someone from the Pagan/Heathen community, in some cases because there is not Pagan Chaplain at their prison, or because they live further afield. Writing to prisoners can be very rewarding, and full training is offered to anyone who would like to volunteer for this valuable role. You can contact the team here if you would like to find out more about this opportunity.
Community Chaplains & “welcoming” groups
When people leave prison, it can be challenging for them to find local groups and contacts, especially if they have moved to a different part of the country. We are working continually with the Ministry of Justice to find a solution to the security and safeguarding issues around this, and of course, the very individual and private nature of many Pagan groups out in the community can make this more challenging. We aim to offer training to people interested in Community Chaplaincy, and also hope to make greater use of the Welcome Directory in the coming months by encouraging more groups to register so prison leavers can meet other Pagans safely.
If you are interested in any of these roles, you can contact Krissy Elliott here for an application and briefing pack or just more information.