Prayer has always been a key part of Prison Fellowship (PF). When we first began in 1979, we did not go into prisons or run programmes – we prayed!
Since our beginnings, we have introduced a number of programmes as part of our mission to show Christ’s love to people in prison. Our letter writing service, Letter Link, pairs someone in prison with a pen pal. Sadly, this PF volunteer is often the only person outside of prison with whom they communicate.
Angel Tree is a programme run over Christmas offering parents in prison the chance to send a Christmas present and a personal message to their children. Children are so often the innocent victims of crime who don’t fully understand why mummy or daddy has gone. Angel Tree is a reminder to children that their parent still loves them and helps to keep their family connections strong. We also run Angel Tree for Mothers’ Day for young offenders, too.
We obey Jesus’ call to visit people in prison in Matthew 25 by running all of our programmes in prisons. We run an accredited victim awareness and restorative justice course called Sycamore Tree which helps learners explore the effects of their crime. In a typical year, we run around 135 Sycamore Tree courses in prisons across England and Wales, allowing about 2,500 learners to explore the impact of their crime. We also support the role of chaplains within prisons, helping with chapel services and providing practical support to people in prison.
Each of our 3,100 volunteers choose to spend their time supporting people in prison because they believe no one is beyond hope. Nowhere is hope needed more than in prison. We have been privileged to hear many incredible stories of transformation catalysed by a simple seed of hope.
However, at the start of 2020, many of our programmes had to cease due to the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Unable to enter prisons, or even leave our homes, we returned to the beginnings of our ministry – we prayed.
With prisons also going into lockdown and people in prison spending up to 23 hours a day in their cell, what could we do to show Christ’s love to those isolated and alone who were separated from friends, family and loved ones?
It was this question that brought about the birth of Prayer Line.
Prayer Line is a service that allows anyone in prison to call a free number and leave a confidential message with their personal prayer request. Our team of six volunteers anonymise and then distribute prayer requests to the 61 Prison Fellowship groups across England and Wales committed to praying for each request.
“Some of the most fervent prayers are said from prison cells,” says Ven. James Ridge, Chaplain General at HMPPS. “For over 40 years, Prison Fellowship has enabled countless prisoners to know that someone is sharing in those prayers. This new initiative enables a more active and immediate participation – prisoners can know that their concerns are being shared safely and confidentially by faithful, prayerful Christians.”
When prison doors were closed, Prayer Line allowed us to hear the cries of those inside. When people in prison experience loneliness, depression, and other mental health struggles, the knowledge that they will be heard, and that people will support them in their struggles can be immensely powerful. It is a reminder to every person in prison that they are loved by God and that his Church is praying for them.
Since its start in July 2020, Prayer Line has received nearly 4,000 prayer requests from people asking for prayer for upcoming court appearances, for family members, or sometimes just lamenting. You can listen to examples of prayers received through Prayer Line, as well as read one person’s story here.
With some prisons only just coming out of lockdown, our other programmes are beginning to return, with Sycamore Tree running 17 courses last month and Angel Tree distributing presents to 4,624 children last Christmas.
While many of our volunteers are now returning to prison, Prayer Line continues to be a key part of our ministry.
As our CEO, Peter Holloway, shared at the launch of Prayer Line, “It is a key way we can support men and women in their journey towards healing and restoration, standing alongside them with deep trust that their loving Heavenly Father hears every prayer.”