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Ministering in dark places

Prison Ministry coordinator Beatriz Skippen (front left) with chaplains, including Richard Cassady (right). Photo: Holly Jewell

Prison chaplains from all over Queensland gathered for their annual conference in April to support each other and to empower, encourage and equip people to work in the field.

UnitingCare Community Prison Ministry coordinator and senior chaplain Beatriz Skippen said the conference was unique, as it was an open forum for everyone who wants to help or understand how to make a difference in the prison ministry context.

"Everyone in our society is affected by crime, not only individuals but our community as a whole," says Ms Skippen.

The 2013 conference was designed for anyone who wanted to learn how to help or work in the area of prison ministry, including legal and health workers, community members, prison chaplains and those affected by crime (including families).

The guest speakers were community worker Dave Andrews, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Ross Homel, Trish Jenkins, author and international motivational speaker, and spiritual direction specialist Anne Fry.

Prison chaplain Rev Richard Cassady says he enjoys the challenges of ministry.

"I am being called to all of God's people regardless of their own personal circumstance.

We are embarking on this journey which is in response to God's calling and one's life."

Mr Cassady says one of the benefits of being involved in prison ministry is encountering people from all walks of life. "While we may speak the common language of English we are all from different walks of life.

"Our stories are a different language but we can actually come together for a common cause.

What we do relies heavily on God and the Holy Spirit."

Mr Cassady noted that prison ministry is not just about ministering to the inmates but to their families and their communities.

"It's a holistic way of doing things … thus enabling me to shift my focus and also engage with communities and relevant organisations.

"It can create more work but I think the outcome in the longer term can be quite fruitful."

The issue of 17-year-olds in adult prisons is one the church has been vocal on for many years.

Ms Skippen says it is a complex issue.

"We need community involvement and support to reduce crime.

"One of the ways to provide support is an intentional engagement with young offenders, providing programs, keeping them occupied, resourcing," she says.

"Young offenders, women, Aboriginals, and mentally ill offenders are a priority for the department, and the best outcomes will be achieved by working with Corrective Services."

Photo : Prison Ministry coordinator Beatriz Skippen (front left) with chaplains, including Richard Cassady (right). Photo: Holly Jewell