The first six months in my role as Chair of Trustees at PF have gone by very fast. Here are some of my reflections so far:
Receiving Peter Holloway’s monthly updates of all the developments and progress post-Covid with our volunteers reaching into virtually every establishment in England and Wales is reinforcing my view of what a powerful tool PF is for the Gospel.
Before Christmas, I observed and helped as group facilitator in my first Sycamore Tree (ST) course. I personally saw the impacts on many participants and the professional and relaxed way the other volunteers led the whole thing. Being a volunteer chaplain at HMP Wayland in Norfolk, I find I am still in touch with several from the course.
What a blessing ST is to so many! It is an example of how God is enabling us to build back our volunteer activity to pre-Covid levels. In the financial year ending March 2023 we will have run 90 ST courses in 50 establishments. We are seeing increasing requests from chaplaincies to provide even more courses—both in prisons where ST is well established and in new establishments too. We are seeking God’s provision of additional volunteers to turn these requests into courses.
I experienced my first Angel Tree Christmas at HMP Wayland. Once again, I saw the amount of time and effort given by volunteers working alongside chaplaincy to reach out widely in the wings and engage those in prison. The men were clearly grateful for the care shown to them and their families—and I found it also enabled a wider introductory conversation.
I see the Prayer Line prayers that are shared every day for us to pray for. My heart goes out each day to those asking for prayer as I see many of the same concerns as those I meet in Wayland.
Showing love and care through Letter Link is also growing, and at our latest board meeting, we discussed how technology might help us reach even more people in the future.
I am also more convinced than ever of the huge value PF volunteers provide to Chaplaincies generally through administration, Bible Studies, and
weekend service support. Chaplaincy teams are more stretched than ever. And so this support is much appreciated. Personally, I also find that it opens up great opportunities for one-to-one discussions with people in prison.
Recently, I had the joy of visiting HMP Thorn Cross near Manchester at the invitation of the Managing Chaplain, Shawn Verhey.
How inspiring it was to meet several of the very experienced and faithful local volunteers who it is clear are hugely appreciated by Shawn.
And how encouraging that senior prison staff take the ST course so seriously and were pleased to engage with us.
At our quarterly meetings with Peter Holloway, the Board of Trustees receive updates on PF activity and finances while also discussing different topics.
One such topic is the Strategic Listening process that is now underway which, over the coming months, will inform the development of the next five-year strategy by the PF Support Team. We look forward to hearing your own inputs to this process as it gains momentum.
On behalf of the Board, I would like to take this opportunity to recognise especially PF volunteers who have for many years served faithfully in prisons and who are now at that stage of transitioning post-Covid into the equally important prayer and support ministries. And similarly, I want to voice a big ‘welcome’ to new volunteers and supporters who are joining the PF family. May God bless you and use you greatly in this ministry.
As you can see from all the above, I find myself encouraged, as I hope you do too, in how God is protecting and using PF in His service to come alongside people in prison—and how He might use us even more in future. May God bless us all in His service in the coming months.
Peter Harlock is the Chair of the Prison Fellowship Board of Trustees.
This article was first published in our quarterly magazine in:sight. You can sign up to receive our free magazine by post or via email by visiting prisonfellowship.org.uk/subscribe