For more than three decades, Chaplains from Baptist Care SA have been holding chapel services for inmates at the Adelaide Remand Centre (ARC).
The services are interactive, not just lengthy sermons, and those who come along take part in bible studies or discussions. Many of these men have never attended church before and it is a world far removed from what they have known.
Regardless, “the guys” really enjoy chapel, says Chaplain Richard Hawke. They come for many reasons; curiosity, for reprieve from prison politics, and to be in a setting where people are having constructive conversations.
Two services are held each week and, on average, one quarter of the men from each unit choose to come along.
However, like almost every area of society, chaplaincy services to prisoners were greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic last year. As the team leader, Richard became the only Chaplain allowed to enter the strictly quarantined environment.
As COVID-19 restrictions began to ease, efforts were made to reinvigorate the ministry team. This included reaching out to the churches across the city to form worship teams to help run the chapel services.
Three churches have come on board, allowing the services to continue with a dynamic team of musicians, as well as pastors and elders who can help lead. This has been an absolute blessing and we thank everyone who has volunteered to be a part of this outreach ministry.
Over the Easter weekend the chapel service at the ARC was once again well attended. The men heard that Mary Magdalene had been the first person to discover Jesus’s empty tomb. They were astonished to learn that she had been a prostitute.
Many of the men burst out laughing at the thought that one of Jesus’s closest followers could have such a background. There was a discussion about how Mary was transformed by the love and grace that Jesus showed her, but most of the men seemed to struggle to understand this.
“I came away thinking I wished I’d never mentioned her background at all,” said Richard. “It seemed like a big distraction.”
The following week one of the inmates who had been at the service asked Richard if he could have a chat.
Aaron* is a large man and heavily tattooed. He was so grateful for the chapel service, and shared that his partner is a prostitute and that it breaks his heart that she should be living that lifestyle while he is in prison.
He was incredibly touched by the story of Mary and had been thinking about it ever since. He felt certain that God was speaking just to him.
“At that point, without any encouragement from me, he said he wanted God in his life and he wanted God to touch his partner. I can tell Aaron is absolutely committed to change and wants to come on to Baptist Care SA’s “Breaking Free” post release support program.
“He now has a Bible and we continue to meet. I’m in awe of the Holy Spirit and how he orchestrated things in such an amazing way – especially when I thought the service was a failure,” says Richard.
This is a poignant reminder that nothing is impossible for our God who loves each of his children equally and longs to bring each and every one of us into his loving grace.
Please pray for Richard and the church teams who are serving the men of the ARC in this important ministry.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.
Jeremiah 29:11 ‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
*not his real name
Baptist Care SA Chaplaincy Services are made possible by funding support from the Baptist Care SA Foundation