‘It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction. This is true: I have come that they may have life and that abundantly’. These words from the Advent Credo by Allan Boesak, were read at Pact’s Advent Carol services.
Farm Street Church in London was full for Pact’s annual Advent Carol Service. Sacred Heart Church in Carlton, Nottingham was also full for our first Carol Service in the Nottingham diocese. Among the congregation at each event were people with lived experience of the criminal justice system, prison chaplains, Pact staff, trustees, volunteers, parish reps and supporters, as well as family and friends.
Bishop Richard Moth in London, and Bishop Patrick McKinney in Nottingham, welcomed everyone and spoke of compassion and new beginnings as Christian values that guide our work.
Pact is the national Catholic charity that supports prisoners, people with convictions, and their children and families. We provide caring and life-changing services at every stage of the criminal justice process: in court, in prison, on release, and in the community.
The testimony of lived experience was a key part of each Service. For Pact, everything we do is informed by the voices of those who know what it is to be in prison, to feel isolated and excluded by the stigma of having a family member in prison, or to be desperately worried about a loved one inside who has a mental illness. The men who spoke at each event had some things in common. Faith had given them the hope and grace, finally, to turn their lives around.
At Farm Street, Lewis read from Psalm 24, a text that had given him courage, ‘Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good’.
David, speaking in Nottingham, had been back to prison many times. He explained that he had not been able to make a fresh start on his own but only when he let God into his life.
It is acknowledged that for a child, having a parent in prison is an Adverse Childhood Experience which can and does affect the rest of the child’s life. Today, as Christmas approaches, there are more than 94,000 children in England & Wales who have a mum or dad in prison – a number that is increasing. It is fitting that children and young people were part of our Advent Services. The Sixth Form Choir of Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School sang beautifully in London. Year Six children from Sacred Heart and Our Lady & St Edward’s Catholic Voluntary Academies sang wonderfully in Nottingham too.
Among other advent carols, the congregation sang together the words of the Magnificat, ‘He looks on me, he lifts me up and gladness fills my days.’ We used the Anne Carter version with the tune of Amazing Grace since that is the hymn so many prisoners turn to for strength and hope in what Lewis described as ‘the sometimes volatile environment of prison’.
Echoing Boesak’s Advent Credo, Pact CEO Andy Keen-Downs reported that this winter ‘will be bleak for a lot of people in prison and in our society.’ Against a context of continuing restrictions in prison regimes due to the serious staffing crisis and increasing numbers of people held in prison, Andy affirmed that, ‘At the heart of our work is a desire to uphold people’s dignity – to support women and men to cope with prison, to stay safe, and to use their time inside as well as possible, so that when they are released, they are focused on living good lives, and have the support they need to do so.’
Bishop Moth urged Catholic people to consider how we are being called to respond to the needs of prisoners and their families. He encouraged Catholic communities to become more involved with the work of Pact.
It was valuable to gather after the Services and talk about actions we can take. We invite you to consider your response to Jesus’ challenge, ‘I was in prison and you visited me’. Pact is ready to welcome you: apply to volunteer with us; become a Parish Rep; make a donation or consider leaving us a legacy gift.
Pact walks alongside all those working to make a better world. In London, refreshments were prepared by the Clink who provide catering beyond the prison walls, giving prisoners the opportunity to gain experience and qualifications. In Nottingham, a feast was prepared by the wonderful Sacred Heart Community Café team.
Please use this bidding prayer during Christmas liturgies where you are:
Lord God, You sent your Son Jesus to bring light into the darkness. This Christmas we bring before you all those in prison, and their families. We pray that the light of Christ will fill their hearts with hope and that your love will sustain them through bleak and difficult times.
Contact Theresa Alessandro and Marie Norbury firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Carol Services are kindly supported by CCLA Investment Management so that all funds raised at the events can be directed to supporting our frontline work.
About the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact)
Pact is a pioneering national, Catholic charity that supports prisoners, people with convictions, and their children and families. We provide caring and life changing services at every stage of the criminal justice process: in court, in prison, on release, and in the community.
Pact’s vision is of a society in which justice is understood as a process of restoration and healing, in which prisons are used sparingly and as places of learning and rehabilitation, and in which the innate dignity and worth of every human being is valued. We work for the common good of society, taking a public health-based approach. We work at the intersection of criminal justice, child and family welfare, mental health, wellbeing provision and health & social care.
Our volunteers and staff can be found in courts, prisons, probation services, and in communities across England & Wales. Building on our Catholic roots, we are a diverse, inclusive, modern, and collaborative charity. We build effective partnerships and sustainable solutions based on our well-established understanding of the systems in which we work, and on our historic values and ethos developed through our 120+ years of service delivery.
What we do:
- Build stronger families and safer communities.
- Reduce risk of harm to prisoners and their children.
- Remove barriers and increase awareness in public services.
- Influence commissioning, policy and legislation.
Pact is a charity registered in England & Wales, number 219278.
Company registration number: 356443.
Registered office: 29 Peckham Road, London, SE5 8UA.