Diocese of Portsmouth

    Archbishop tells prisoners and community leaders about transformation

    14 Oct. 2023

    IT’S a cross made from an assault rifle, which Archbishop Justin was given by social activist Shane Claiborne.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury showed it to inmates at HMP Isle of Wight as he told the story of Shane’s community in Kensington, Philadelphia. It helps to transform housing and transform lives in one of the poorest areas of the United States, where drug addicts line the main street and life expectancy for white males is just 36. They tend to die of drug overdoses or by bullets.

    Shane’s community have a forge and collect guns that they transform into household tools and utensils. They created three crosses out of gun metal, one for Archbishop Justin, one for the Pope and one for the secretary-general of the United Nations. It was this cross that the Archbishop showed to inmates in the chapels of HMP Albany and HMP Parkhurst, as he explained how God could transform anyone, whatever their background.

    It was the same cross that he showed to leaders from community groups from across Portsmouth, as they gathered for lunch later at St Luke’s Church, Southsea. The Archbishop told those who help vulnerable families, asylum seekers and the homeless that they are the glue that binds our local communities together. And he urged them to be inspired by the story of Shane’s community to work collaboratively and make a difference – one life at a time.

    The Archbishop talks to clergy from the Isle of Wight over breakfast at Holy Trinity, Bembridge
    Archbishop Justin speaks to inmates in HMP Isle of Wight

    Day Two of the Archbishop’s visit to our diocese began with a breakfast with clergy from across the Isle of Wight, held at Holy Trinity Church, Bembridge. Parish clergy, retired clergy and chaplains heard the Archbishop talk about the vital role of parish priests, and the need to ordain more clergy. He also answered questions about a range of issues, including what we can learn from chaplaincy and how the bishop's proposals for Prayers of Love and Faith might be implemented.

    Archbishop Justin and Bishop Jonathan then travelled to HMP Isle of Wight, where he spoke to inmates, chaplains and prison officers in the chapels of both the Albany and Parkhurst sites. As well as Shane Claiborne's project, he also talked about his alcoholic mother, whose life was also transformed when she was able to stop drinking and become a disciple of Jesus. He was with her when she died in July and was grateful to hear her last words: “I shall see God”.

    “My mother’s life was transformed by Alcoholics Anonymous, by the medics who were involved, but also by the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “And Shane’s project didn’t stop some people dying, but at least they didn’t die alone and unloved. God changes people through the miracle of forgiveness, so you know they are loved, whoever you are, whatever you have done. It gives you hope and a sense of purpose.”

    He answered questions about climate change, society’s view of offenders, and the resourcing of the prison service itself. And he was able to meet and encourage chaplains from all denominations working in the prison. 

    Archbishop Justin and Bishop Jonathan on the bridge of the Wightlink ferry
    Archbishop Justin speaks to leaders of community groups working with some of those in need in Portsmouth

    Archbishop Justin then travelled across to the mainland by ferry, and was given a chance to go onto the bridge of the Wightlink ferry in the middle of the Solent. He talked to Wightlink staff about their roles and was able to see the landmarks they use to guide the ferries into Portsmouth Harbour.

    Once in the city, he was welcomed to St Luke’s Church, Southsea, where community leaders had gathered to talk about how they might work together to help to transform society. He told them about the cross made from an assault rifle, and talked about the importance of local councils, charities, churches and community groups, which can promote the values that others might live by.

    “People learn their values from people such as you, and those who work in hospitals, schools and churches, not from the Prime Minister or the government,” he said. “It is councillors and local charities that make our country work. And the global then sits on top of the local. What you are doing will, over time, be transformative. And the reason that we love is because it's what God is about – he suffered on a cross so that we could be transformative transformers.”

    The Archbishop cuts the cake to mark the sixth birthday of St Margaret's, Southsea
    The Archbishop aboard HMS Victory with some serving naval personnel

    He then went to St Margaret’s, Southsea, to help them celebrate their sixth birthday at a family fun day. Hundreds of people packed the church for crafts, facepaints, a barbecue and the chance for children to enjoy free soft play. Archbishop Justin cut a cake to mark the six years since the congregation was planted from nearby St Jude’s Church.

    The church has benefited from strategic funding from the national Church of England, which has helped them to re-roof the building, refurbish the inside, and install heating and a new floor. What started as a congregation of only 12 now welcomes more than 150 each Sunday, with hundreds more pouring through the doors during the week to use the community cafe, Pantry and soft play area.

    Karis Hadley, who came to the celebratory fun day with her brother Reece and two-year-old niece Jeanie, said: "I think it's fantastic. I started coming to this church during Covid and became part of their women's group. I also help with the youth group, which has grown from six people to 20. This church felt like home straightaway and both my brothers bring their daughters." 

    The Archbishop finished the day at HM Naval Base, joining Naval Base Commander John Voyce and navy chaplain the Rev Ralph Barber on the deck of HMS Victory, at the spot where Admiral Lord Nelson fell during the Battle of Trafalgar. Ralph recited the prayer Nelson prayed on the eve of the Battle of Trafalgar.

    Archbishop Justin then met a group of 10 people who represent a spectrum of personnel in today's Navy, including a naval wife, a reservist, a Ministry of Defence civil servant, naval ratings and officers as well as a Royal Marine musician. There was also a chance to talk to United States Navy rabbi Emily Rosenzweig, and a Muslim rating Njiemoun Fadimatou, originally from Cameroon. They discussed issues affecting the Navy and the Church, including naval chaplaincy at sea, and prayers on parade. The Archbishop then enjoyed a formal dinner at the home of the Second Sea Lord, hosted by the Naval Base Commander.

    Latest News

    More news