Helen Harwood meets new CMS Pioneer student and prison chaplain, Fin Wood.
HH: I know you are a new student to the course, having started back in September. I will ask you more about that in a minute, but for the moment can I ask about your work as a prison chaplain? You’ve been working in UK prisons now for two and a half years, and your context for pioneering is “…to reflect and create new and innovative ways and avenues in prison for men to explore faith, opportunity and purpose.” You have told me this is a vocation you have chosen, and I am sure there is a lot more to it than that. Can you say more about your interest in prison since you were a teenager?
FW: Well I spent a night in an African jail aged 17, which really shocked me. The feelings of that experience are a haunting affirmation to my daily efforts in prison. They allow me to think of those I serve and what they might be feeling and going through, particularly the ones for whom it is their first time inside. So I guess it’s those feelings and that experience that anchor my commitment to the work. They are the reason. I also have a contagious passion for the marginalised. Those in prison are marginalised. It’s part of my heartbeat for justice, restoration and hope.
I know you have a dream, albeit in the very embryonic stages, of a social enterprise. Can you tell us more about this and say more about the strapline in your mind of “character, community and the honey”?
I have a dream of developing an apiary at the prison to train and teach guys about bees while creating an income through selling the honey produced. I want to compare some of the characteristics of bees and humans to create an educative and interactive curriculum that runs alongside the work educating guys about their own character. Looking after the bees enables the guys to make meaningful and positive connections that help them reflect and build on good character. I want to involve the community through collaboration and also educate them about opportunities for guys who leave prison having been involved with the programme, so that they then have a chance to get full time employment in the community.
For the moment you are involved in a project for restorative justice and how to put right the harm caused, can you tell us all about this work, it sounds fascinating?
I run a course called Sycamore Tree that teaches the principles of restorative justice and works to help guys take responsibility for their actions and think of how they do things differently in the future. It’s a six-week programme, one afternoon a week. They meet a victim of crime on week three, which is often the pivotal session. I then offer to work with some who choose to take things further by apologising to their victims by writing a letter. I run four courses a year with 18 guys each time. We use volunteers from the community to help run the groups. It’s a very transformative time.
It certainly sounds transformative. Can you say more about what it means to do pastoral duties as a chaplain and be part of a multifaith team caring for and supporting all faiths? You have said, “Finding me, my gifts my purpose has been a great part of this journey.” Can you say more about how helping people at the margins has helped you to find yourself?
If I am the only chaplain on duty I must do the duties for that day, which may involve seeing prisoners of all faiths and none. I must be aware of what’s important to them and who they can speak to about their faith requirements. If I did have to inform someone of bereavement then I must take note of their faith and perform any necessary requirements in line with their faith tradition. I must be able to work with other team members of other faiths understanding and respecting our diversity. It is a very enriching experience.
I find through helping others I see some of my own fragility and brokenness. At times sharing in their pain, say with bereavement, I find my own healing as I remember some of my own pain around bereavements. I find their stories challenge me to be grateful and reflect on my own story. Their hope, commitment and tenacity sometimes make me feel deeply challenged about my lack of these things. So there are a few of the ways I find myself working in the margins.
On to the CMS Pioneer course – how did you find us and how are you finding your time on the course?
Well, I have known Jonny Baker for a number of years and we had had some informal chats in recent months as I had been looking at various options knowing I had to do some training to develop as a chaplain. It was all quite last minute but with my church so graciously agreeing to pay for half my fees each year it became a no-brainer. God was in it – is in it!
This course has begun in me a deep formation process once again for which I am, I think, quite thankful. I felt maybe I had plateaued in my spirituality and this has enlarged my capacity for experience, creativity and depth. It has exposed me to great writers, stimulating conversation and new rhythms and practices that have stimulated my passion for God’s presence and purpose in all things.
And finally, Fin, how can we pray for you?
Pray with passion and conviction that you may be the answers to your prayers. We need more people to be less afraid of those with convictions. We need more people to advocate and speak up for those on the margins. We need some funds to keep up the vital work. We need eyes to see what God is doing. We need to value the place we stand on, it is holy ground. We need to hear from you if you can help start a social enterprise. We need wisdom, patience and a deep love tank to keep going.
Thank you, Fin, and may God bless you in this vital ministry.
You can read more about the restorative justice work Fin is involved with at: http://www.prisonfellowship.org.uk/what-we-do/sycamore-tree/