Sheena Orr: Why Prison Ministry? Why Overseas?
My compassion has always been with people on the edge of society – the marginalised, the poor, the voiceless, the vulnerable. Indeed, from the outset my call to ministry has been to those on the edge – be it of the church or of society. All my working life has been focused on working either with organisations involved in social and economic justice or directly with the communities themselves. This has included 6 years working for ‘Koinonia’, the social development wing of the evangelical churches in Bangladesh and 8 years in Malawi working with a wide range of churches and development organisations as a consultant, researcher and facilitator.
On my return to Scotland in 2001, before being called to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, I became involved in Priorities Area work and did the research and design of what has now become the Transformation Team, part of Faith in Community Scotland. Then in 2006 I was asked to do the research for a Throughcare project for the 80% of prisoners released into 8 postcodes in Glasgow. This is now an established project called Faith in Throughcare. It was my involvement with this last piece of work which ignited a passion for those affected by the criminal justice system and which led to my requesting a full-time Prison Chaplaincy placement during my training for ministry. This had never been done before but the request was supported and I spent a very rewarding summer in Chaplaincy at Polmont YOI along visits to Perth and Edinburgh prisons.
Through Prison Chaplaincy I became involved in the Joint Faiths Throughcare Group (JFTG) which meets at national level. And while studying for my BD I used my final year dissertation to offer to do research into Community Justice Chaplaincy. I am now part of the JFTG sub-group charged with developing a strategy for Community Justice Chaplaincy in Scotland. This includes looking at the role churches play before, during and after a person has contact with the criminal justice system. It recognises the role that the family and community can play in reducing reoffending and restoring lives.
Meanwhile, at local level I joined the Stirling Interfaith Community Justice Group which is currently developing plans for a visitor centre at Cornton Vale women’s prison. The group has also arranged to provide toys for the visitor and family centre and leaver packs for those walking out of the prison gates with nothing but a plastic bag and a few belongings.
During Prisoner Week 2010 (More than a Number) I was involved in services in Falkirk and Stirling Presbytery and at Christmas took a group of young people up to Polmont YOI to take part in a service which I led.
While exploring all this I began to wonder what the prison situation was like in developing countries where I had spent most of my working life. This led to contact with various organisations working with prisoners and ex-offenders in Kenya. As I researched more I realised that a ministry with prisoners/ex-offenders and churches was being laid on my heart. How this is to be worked out in practice is what I am currently exploring. All the contacts I have made so far have been very positive and supportive of the idea. It is as if all is falling into place for such a time as this!