From the Manse

A message from Rev. Dan Harper, January/February 2018

From the Manse

One thing we all appreciate to a greater or lesser extent over Christmas is time to be with our family or friends. If it is for a couple of hours or a couple of weeks being “home” for Christmas is a key part of our cultural understanding of what we do.

For a section of our community, and for a particular community within our parish, this is not something that they were able to do this year. For the women who are in HMP & YOI Cornton Vale there was no possibility of going home for Christmas.

It is hard on both the women who are imprisoned and their families, not just at Christmas, but all year round. Whilst it is possibly appealing to think that those who are found guilty of a crime and imprisoned deserve all that they get, it is a more loving position to consider the loss of liberty as the punishment and find
ways of supporting and encouraging the women whilst imprisoned to enable them to make different life choices when they are released. A key part of that is recognising the humanity of the women and the importance that family life plays.

In Bridge of Allan Parish Church, a number of our members are involved in supporting the women and their families whose lives are touched by HMP & YOI Cornton Vale in a variety of different ways. We have members who are involved in prison visiting and those who support the friends and families visiting the ladies through the Family Help Hub at HMP & YOI Cornton Vale, and
more recently the visitor's centre at HMP Glenochil. 

Before Christmas, as a church, we gave gifts through our annual gift service, which went to the ladies who are imprisoned in Cornton Vale.

We support Positive Changes, who give opportunities to women touched by the criminal justice system, particularly HMP & YOI Cornton Vale, work experience in their Grace Chocolate initiative. There are members who support the Handbags of Hope, helping ladies on their release from prison. meanings as well as psychological-spiritual meanings. The latter refers to the separation and estrangement that most often mark our lives.

“Estrangement” is an especially resonant word: it means to be 5 separated from that to which we belong. Return from exile is about re-connection to that from which we have become estranged.

And further to all of this we are building a relationship with Rev. Bill Taylor, one of the Church of Scotland Chaplains at HMP & YOI Cornton Vale.

In addition to this I am a trustee of the Stirling Interfaith Community Justice Group, who are a charity who run the family visitors centres at HMP & YOI Cornton Vale and HMP Glenochil.

This sounds like a lot, and it is a credit to all involved the commitment and effort they put into all of these activities. There is an article in this magazine, and hopefully next month, that will give you further insight into what some of what is done.

If you think you would like to be involved in supporting any of this work then please get in touch and we can get you involved.

When I sit and contemplate the work we undertake in this area I always come back to one thing. One thing that matters to us all more than you could know, and one thing that is crucial to turning your life around in and after prison, and that is hope; and at this, the beginning of a New Year that is where everything must start.

It must start with hope.

Hope founded in the second and third and infinite chances we are given by God. Hope that our past and future mistakes will not define us. Hope that our own lives, and the lives of our loved ones, will be full of opportunities to grow, enquire and explore.

Hope that we are loved, and the knowledge that we are.