It’s been a few years since I wrote about St. Hilda’s ministry at a local youth detention centre.
Along with other churches, we hold a monthly chapel service for the inmates. Doing this kind of thing over a long period of time can be discouraging since there seems to be so much insurmountable darkness, darkness that would like to give the impression that it is utterly impervious to any spark of the Gospel. And it’s always hot there; I can’t help dwelling on the thought that it’s because the fires of hell are licking at the foundations.
Despite setbacks such as a cadre of would-be witches sitting in the front row and chanting curses while we attempt to worship – my part is the music – chairs being hurled, riots being suppressed and other less violent distractions, there is the occasional ray of light.
One of the children recently asked to be baptised. Before being baptised, he asked us to stay behind after the service because he wanted to confess and to be forgiven before his baptism.
To complicate matters somewhat, he a transgender youth.
Many of us were baptised as babies; it cost us nothing. To be baptised in prison by choice is much more costly.
After leaving the detention centre – with some relief, I must admit – I often muse about the fact that the inmates can usually acknowledge that they are burdened by the problem of innate sin in their lives – although they wouldn’t use those words – and how wrenchingly difficult it is for those of us living an easy life in supposed freedom to do the same.
There are two kinds of prison: the kind I visit once a month and the kind in which we, in the absence of God’s saving grace, willingly incarcerate ourselves to maintain a polite distance from the awful truth: “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
I’m not sure which is worse.