Rachel Cama, BA student, tells me about her new community house for prison leavers.
HH: Rachel, you’ve been with us a while, and it’s a pleasure to get the chance to find out more about your life. I know you and your husband, Alex, have recently moved to Shrewsbury to partner with an existing charity, Yellow Ribbon, in order to set up a Christian community house for prison leavers. Can you tell me how you got involved with them?
RC: Alex and I had been exploring the idea of starting a Christian community house for prison leavers for a while, but were not sure where or how to get started. Alex got talking with Mark Berry (coincidentally, a former CMS employee), who is Yellow Ribbon’s chaplain. We discovered a lot of overlap in areas of interest – particularly prison/ex-offender ministry; pioneer mission; and New Monasticism. He introduced us to Yellow Ribbon’s CEO, who was very excited to hear of our vision. These initial conversations put Telford and Shropshire on the map for us and led us to looking at houses for sale. We were blown away by house prices (living in London at the time where NOTHING would have been affordable), one thing led to another…and here we are in lovely Shrewsbury!
I understand you have a five-bedroom house, which will be used as a community home. How much work did you have to do, and how are you going to recruit the new community members?
Yes, we were fortunate enough to be able to purchase a house here with a buy-to-let mortgage. Having had some building and decorating work done on it, this now provides a home and community for ex-offender men. We rent the house to Yellow Ribbon, who are responsible for claiming supported housing benefit from the residents. So, that is how the finances work. In terms of recruiting, Alex has been particularly busy getting our name out there to local prison chaplaincy and resettlement teams, so we have had a couple of referrals through that route. Otherwise, we have promoted it on our own prison ministry and addiction recovery networks (I used to work at a Christian drug and alcohol rehab centre).
Your provisional weekly schedule is designed to give residents structure, routine and a sense of community – can you say more about how you have planned to do this? How important is prayer, and how will shared meals and voluntary work create the desired community?
I think structure, routine and a sense of community and belonging are some of the most essential elements to this kind of work. Our weekly schedule has been inspired by New Monastic rhythms, which is why daily prayer is so important. We are keen to teach residents about different forms of prayer, including contemplative practices. Monday to Friday, we join the community for morning prayer at 8.30am. We have scheduled in a weekly community dinner and worship evening, a weekly community breakfast, and a monthly Sunday lunch – as eating together is so valuable! Other aspects of the programme include sessions to explore the Bible and Christian living; therapeutic emotional wellbeing groups; and voluntary work/missional activities in the community.
I understand that you and Alex started seriously exploring this concept when you were on the CMS Make Good module in Pickwell Manor (before you were even engaged!). Can you tell me more?
Yes, we did – thank you Pioneer Mission Leadership course! At our Make Good residential course, which Alex joined as a one-off, we had to start putting visions and plans onto paper, and share these ideas with all the students there. As you say, we were only dating at this point, so I was a little anxious we may have been getting ahead of ourselves! It is amazing now to look back at our notes from that course, and see that we were dreaming of starting a New Monastic/missional style community house for ex-offenders which seemed so far off and like a pipe-dream. We are starting small but we continue to hold the vision of one day having a bigger community, with a mixture of ex-offenders and other community members and families, possibly living together under one roof, or at least in more of a communal setting. Who knows, but we’ll keep dreaming!
It’s great to know that the CMS Pioneer Ministry Leadership Training course has helped to influence your ministry and your futures. Has the course helped in any other ways?
The course has been really great – I’m still on it, now working towards my BA. The course overall has really complemented the accumulation of our combined previous experiences (my work in a drug rehab and helping set one up in Bolivia as a CMS mission partner; Alex’s work with prison chaplaincy in two London prisons and living in Christian community; and our joint leadership roles for a dispersed New Monastic community, the Young Franciscans). It’s prepared us for ministry together. I particularly enjoyed the Mission and Evangelism module and the Ministry and Worship in Context module, for which I wrote one of my assignments about our lockdown garden wedding!
How can we pray for you and your ministry?
Our main prayer request at the moment is around getting the right men into the house – people who would be great for the community and who would really benefit from it – men who have had enough of their old destructive ways of life and are ready to commit to community living and deepening their relationship with God. Our second resident recently arrived directly from prison and there is another in the pipeline.
We pray for good relationships to be formed in the house. Also, for wisdom for Alex and I as we lead, and for time to rest and be nurtured spiritually ourselves. We’d like prayer for good new friendships, as we settle into Shrewsbury and our new church here, Holy Trinity, Meole Brace. Thank you so much!