When St Paul offers a prayer for the Romans that ‘The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing’ (Romans 15:13), he is suggesting strongly that hope is part of the very character and description of God’s own being. It is of the essence of God to be a giver of hope. And the desired outcome for the Romans of Paul’s prayerful wish is that they ‘may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’.
We are to be people characterised by hope, with our own persons shaped by hope, with hope overflowing in us and from us as the Holy Spirit works in us.
I am now heading towards seven years as the Anglican Bishop for Prisons in England and Wales and will be handing that role to somebody else in the near future. And for me, my engagement with prisons and the wider world of criminal justice has been something which has often been hope-giving and hope-building. And that despite so much negative reporting around things to do with prisons.
I find hope in the world of prisons because of the people I encounter who themselves incarnate hope. Whether I am meeting chaplains or volunteers, charity workers or those involved in prison education, governors or other staff, more often than not I find those people to be those who are seeking to make a difference, to enable others to change. That is about hope.
In so many prisoners as well, sometimes despite really difficult backgrounds, I have met people with a genuine desire to change. That too is about hope.
And change does happen. We hear the testimonies of those whose lives have been transformed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We see the work being done – not least Sycamore Tree – which opens up new possibilities as people face their pasts with honesty and move on into new futures. Hope is renewed.
And so we pray in hope. We pray that through Prison Fellowship, through chaplains, staff and volunteers, hope will be discerned, grown, given and received.
May there indeed be an abounding of hope in us and through us!
The Rt Rev James Langstaff is the Bishop of Rochester and Bishop for HM Prisons.
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