Reuniting with my prison chaplain after 20 years
Pictured: Director of Prison Ministry Stephen James with the former chaplain of Shrewsbury Prison
"I think I know you, and you know me!"
Twenty years after our Director of Prison Ministry (Stephen James) was converted under the ministry of the Shrewsbury Prison chaplaincy team, he received an enquiry from a familiar name...
"Hi, I'm looking for material to use in a prison context" - Gay Pye
Stephen replied with the information requested and signed off:
“I think I know you, and you know me! Shrewsbury Prison 1997?”
It turned out that Gay had come across this article in The Church Times newspaper in August 2019. She had been looking for some new material to try in Stafford prison, where she now works as a volunteer, and Christianity Explored Prison Edition caught her eye.
However, as Stephen explains, "It wasn't until she got the email from me that she joined the dots and realised who I was!"
Shrewsbury Prison, 1995-1997
He goes on: "We knew each other quite well back when I was an inmate in Shrewsbury between 1995-97. She was the Chaplain of the prison and she would make a real effort, above and beyond her official role, to reach out to prisoners and share the gospel with them.
"Outside of chapel she would often be seen around the wings of the prison, interacting with the prisoners. She also encouraged Christian members of the public to get involved in prison ministry, and she brought in Victory Outreach (a Christian organisation that helps people with life-controlling issues) as well.
"I would listen to the services that Gay ran, and one day I asked her for a Bible and she gave me a Gideon's New Testament. I became a Christian through the ministry at Shrewsbury Prison and when I got out, I was a resident with the Victory Outreach programme for a few years. During that time, around 1998, I went along to Gay's ordination service and we chatted a bit. That was the last time I saw her."
Gay could remember Stephen, too: "I can picture him now with a mop and bucket. He was a wing cleaner and stood out as he was so tall!"
She was quick to point out that "The Lord brought Stephen to himself one night alone in his cell with the Lord and the New Testament. I had very little to do with his actual conversion! But you can imagine how wonderful it was to hear from him again."
A lovely reunion
After exchanging a few emails in autumn last year, Stephen and Gay arranged to meet up to discuss how Gay might use our materials in Stafford Prison.
"I went to her house for an evening meal. A lot had changed for both of us, and it was lovely to catch up and talk about the work I am now involved in," says Stephen.
"Gay was particularly interested to hear about my international travel with Prison Fellowship International, after spending several years overseas as a missionary with her husband."
Stephen also filled Gay in about the background for the Christianity Explored Prison Edition and how we are currently developing it.
The following morning Stephen preached at Stafford Prison's chapel service to 150 men.
They arranged for Stephen to come back in the New Year to provide some training to introduce Christianity Explored to the prison volunteers.
Gay and Stephen agreed that a new version of the Prison Edition that we're currently trialling would be the best fit for Stafford, as they didn't want to use flipcharts in the session and wanted smaller breakout groups of five or six people.
Stephen went back to Stafford in early January, and gave ten volunteers training on how to use it by conducting a sample session with them.
"The response was generally good and the volunteers seemed excited to try something different," said Stephen.
"My hope is that they will see what we are trying to do and why - introducing the guests to Jesus from the book of Mark, and letting it speak for itself. I'd love the leaders to see the benefit of doing that. And I pray that over the coming weeks as they keep looking at Jesus and the issues that Mark’s gospel presents that the guests would get answers to questions they have about the Christian life and what it means to be a follower of Jesus."
The chaplaincy team will be running the course on Sunday afternoons over the coming weeks. There are currently 24 people signed up.
Please pray for the volunteers as they lead it for the first time and that God would be powerfully at work as His word goes out.
Find out more about Christianity Explored Prison Edition
Get in touch if you're interested in running the new trial version: