Message from the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (PaCET) for Sunday Meeting 7th July 2024

Dear Friends, Friends will know that for 18 months now, I have been working as a Quaker Prison Chaplain in Lewes HMP. I work as part of an inter-faith team, Message from the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (PaCET) for Sunday Meeting 7th July 2024

Dear Friends,

Friends will know that for 18 months now, I have been working as a Quaker Prison Chaplain in Lewes HMP.

I work as part of an inter-faith team, initially shadowing other chaplains (including our Friend Medhina). I began full of good intentions to ‘make a difference’ but as the enormity of the challenges of prison life hit me, I quickly began to question my usefulness.

There is a legal requirement for the Chaplaincy to visit certain prisoners every day: those in the healthcare, segregation, and neurodiverse wings, and those new into the prison. We also have a list of prisoners who are at risk of self-harm or suicide that we must see each week.

We visit these men in their cells, introduce ourselves, ask how they are and whether there is anything we can do for them. Whilst still shadowing, I questioned another Chaplain, ‘What can we do for them?’

‘Nothing really,’ she replied.

Now, I knew that this Chaplain, who declared that she could do nothing, was highly respected amongst the prisoners, so she was clearly doing something! I had watched her with many prisoners – she listened, she did not judge, and she stayed with each man for as long as it took for them to say what they needed to say.

For the last year or so, I have been facilitating the ‘Facing Up to Conflict’ course, produced by the Alternatives to Violence Project. I have around 12 men to see each week – delivering the next part of the 6-week course to them in their cell. The course is of great value, and feedback from the men is positive. However, what also has value is my weekly visit – something so simple as making the effort to visit them, to enquire how they are, to have a joke or listen to what’s going on for them, I know is really appreciated.

I finish with a quote from the introduction to Chapter 12 of Quaker Faith and Practice:

‘Often it is what we are rather than anything we do which is of help to others. We should be wary of giving advice; a sympathetic ear, whist the person finds their own way forward, will usually do more lasting good.’ QfP 12.01

Julie Sleightholme

on behalf of the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (David Hitchin, Chris Lawson, Tim Pitt-Payne, Caroline Pybus, Theresa Samms and Nancy Wall)