The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh, recently made a visit to HMP Maghaberry at the invitation of the Church of Ireland Chaplains to the prison. The visit enabled the Archbishop to learn about the life of Northern Ireland’s high profile top security prison and the ongoing pastoral work of the chaplaincy team there. The chaplains take as their cue Christ’s words in Matthew 25:36: ‘…I was in prison and you came to visit me’ and they seek to look after the spiritual welfare of prisoners and offenders.
Archbishop Clarke, who was accompanied by his Executive Chaplain, the Revd Canon Shane Forster, and the Church of Ireland Press Officer, was met by the Revd Canon Robert Howard and the Revd Canon Jim Harron, the Church of Ireland Prison Chaplains at Maghaberry, as well as by the Revd Leslie Spence, the Methodist Prison Chaplain. After a poignant moment at the NI Prison Service Roll of Honour which includes officers killed in service as recently as 2016 and 2012, the group was welcomed by the Deputy Governor of the prison who took time to discuss the running of the institution and its threefold strategy of managing a stable prison regime, working within resources and focusing on outcomes for offenders.
The Archbishop’s group then toured a number of the prison buildings and facilities including the education centre and library, the laundry and the health wing, where the Archbishop met with and spoke to a number of prisoners, before visiting the prison chapel where he spoke and prayed with a number of the wider team of prison chaplains. The visit concluded with a visit to the Braille Unit– which has delivered a number of Braille projects for the Church of Ireland such as the Hymnal, the Book of Common Prayer and the recent Hymnal Supplement, Thanks & Praise over the past fifteen years.
Archbishop Clarke commented, ‘It has been instructive and illuminating to have had the opportunity to see at first-hand something of the very challenging work undertaken at Maghaberry Prison and to meet with staff, the chaplains and a number of inmates. Clearly, it is a highly complex environment dealing with prisoners of every category and facing into a wide range of deep societal problems. I have been impressed by the valuable contributions of the prison staff and by the steady dedication of the chaplains, whom I trust we will hold in our prayers as they engage with the prisoners there.’