Forced into the Habit – A Call for Anglicans in Prison Ministry, Part II

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series A Call for Anglicans in Prison Ministry

Imagine for a moment, a parish behind bars. It is not too crazy I assure you, because Chaplain David Noles (God rest his soul) was ahead of the curve when he planted Church of the Broken Chalice at Red Eagle Community Work Center in Montgomery, Alabama. Fr. Noles, who simply preferred to go by “Chap” was an inspiration to all who met and knew him. He shepherded not only those at Red Eagle but also served as a chaplain for Faulkner University Athletics. We need more like him and as I was reflecting upon my friendship with him, I felt compelled to write the following.

Let us begin with an often-overlooked but powerful prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, found on page 46:

O GOD, who sparest when we deserve punishment, and in thy wrath rememberest mercy; We humbly beseech thee, of thy goodness, to comfort and succour all prisoners, especially those who are condemned to die. Give them a right understanding of themselves, and of thy promises; that, trusting wholly in thy mercy, they may not place their confidence anywhere but in thee. Relieve the distressed, protect the innocent, awaken the guilty; and forasmuch as thou alone bringest light out of darkness, and good out of evil, grant to these thy servants, that by the power of thy Holy Spirit they may be set free from the chains of sin, and may be brought to newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer, Prayers and Thanksgivings, For Prisoners.

This prayer applies to all of us prisoners enslaved to sin. Each of us needs to be aware of our guilt and reminded we stand guilty before the holy God, in need of clothing in Christ’s righteousness. During the remaining moments of Advent let us pursue Christ and His sanctification through good works as we enter Christmastide. Such good works include bringing the Light of the world into the dark places, including jails and prisons. May we all be delivered free by the Holy Ghost from our chains of sin and walk confidently in the Spirit in the newness of life provided by Life Himself, Jesus Christ.

The American prayer book tradition has a mixed history of changing the 1662 tradition – both good and bad – but one innovation in the 1796 edition was the inclusion of The Visitation of Prisoners. The prayer For Prisoners from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is a shortening of an entire office formerly included in the American prayer books. The Visitation of Prisoners is not a perfect office by any stretch of the imagination but was retained and edited in the 1892 Book of Common Prayer before being omitted as a formal office and reduced to this single prayer beginning in the 1928 edition. However, this office demonstrated a care for the incarcerated and a certain expectation that the parish cared for the prisoner and the parson was expected to visit those in prison as envisioned in Matthew 25.

‘I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, … ‘And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:36-40, ESV

We live in interesting times. The cost of mass-producing Scripture has made it inexpensive and more easily accessible in print or online moreso than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet the over-saturation of Scripture’s availability has not created more disciples. Instead, ironically and tragically, the Church is perhaps the least disciplined and catechized since the dawn of the Reformation.

For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

1 Corinthians 4:15

Prisoners are no different. Prisoners, especially new disciples in Christ, are often equally confounded with multiple translations of Scripture and a bombardment of personal opinions as to what Christian discipleship looks like. They are wandering believers who often lack a formal church behind bars or only have access to an untethered Christianity that stresses conversion but leaves new believers adrift without any form of discipleship. They need fathers in Christ.

For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners.

Psalm 69:33, Authorized Version

There are thousands of Christians behind bars. Some were of faith before their crime and others were converted while serving their time. Each morning they awake behind a cell. Each day they spend time with fellow prisoners. Each evening they retire to their cell, oftentimes sharing a common living space with a bunkmate – sometimes several bunkmates in a cell. These Christians are in a forced monasticism but without a guide beyond the Scriptures. As Anglicans, we have a great inheritance and tools to make disciples out of these men and women, and in turn, for them to make disciples of their bunkmates, fellow prisoners, and yes – even their correctional officers and staff. There is great potential for turning the Christian prisoner into an in-house chaplain – if we invest in them.

  • They need formation. They need a guide. They need daily prayer.
  • Just as we need formation, we need a guide, we need daily prayer.

Therefore, let us share our riches with the incarcerated. My vision for Anglican prison ministry is the same as my vision for Anglican parish ministry – provide the prayer book into the hands of parishioners and prisoners alike and teach them to use the tool for prayer, formation, and discipleship. It would be unrealistic to expect a parish behind every prison wall – but that should be the goal. In the meantime, we should work together to equip believers behind bars to make every cellblock a monastic cell. Many incarcerated new believers in Christ do not know where to start or begin, therefore let us equip them with the prayerbook as a guide until we can get priests to prisoners to plant parishes.

Providing prayerbooks to prisoners is not the solution, but is a beginning. Imagine a concerted effort to provide prayerbooks along with a short, simple, one-page guide to using the daily office lectionary as a reading plan for prisoners. This one-pager “crash course” in the prayerbook would walk through morning and evening prayer, the Litany, and encourage the incarcerated to pray for the day when a priest can celebrate Holy Communion with them. This one-pager could also point out the fundamentals of the faith, contained within the prayerbook, and serve as a formation plan for the lonely disciple who is new to the faith and learning the Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, and Creeds for the first time.

This approach lays out the foundation for lay-led ministry behind bars, anchored upon the daily offices. It creates pathways for parishes to have a concrete and impactful goal to assist incarcerated Christians. Further, prisoner-led daily offices and living the prayerbook life is a natural way for our incarcerated brethren to teach others the faith. The call I am making is prayerbooks for prisoners – step 1 in a vision for Anglican prison ministry.

A 3-Step Vision for Anglican Prison Ministry

This start will require collaboration and coordination at hopefully a provincial level. Incarcerated facilities typically require any donated books to be in paperback form. Fortunately, with the help of a dear friend, we were able to have the paperback Prisoner’s Edition of the 2019 ACNA Book of Common Prayer published. As of today’s date, it is on sale for $8.50 per book or $85 for a case of ten. I hope that Anglican parishes, dioceses, the province, and individual believers would consider purchasing and deploying these prayer books at their local city and county jails. My next hope, and current project, is working towards a Lenten call to purchase these prayer books from the publisher and have them directly sent to prisons for chaplains to disburse to those in need – the incarcerated and correctional staff alike. Stay tuned on hopefully what will be Part III of this series, but in the meantime, take advantage of this resource and deploy it in your parish ministry to those in your local jails. If you are a 1928 Book of Common Prayer user (like myself), then consider the 1928 Prayer Book Alliance, which produces a paperback version, albeit small in font.

Again, this is but step 1 in a multi-faceted ministry. It is a band-aid and temporary solution for the lonely prisoner, who is seeking discipleship but does not have an Anglican chaplain or local Anglican prison parish ministry to teach, guide, disciple, and worship with him. But for many, it may be a Godsent resource to organize their devotional and prayer life to the ancient rhythms of the church throughout the centuries and the church just beyond the barred windows. The next step requires heeding the call to actually go behind bars. This is an excellent opportunity for the laity to lead within their parish. It is a natural opportunity to set aside deaconesses, raise up lay readers, and ordain deacons to lead services of morning and evening prayer and build relationships with an incarcerated person as one teaches them how to live the prayer book life. Our parishes should seek to pass on how to be a monastic behind bars under the rule of the daily office lectionary, seasonal fasts [and feasts!], and absorb the faith once delivered through the Creeds, Lord’s Prayer, Decalogue, and Articles of Religion. This second step is one of faithfulness – faithfully stepping into the call of going the few miles to the local jails and making relationships with the correctional staff and incarcerated. Pray with them, pray for them, and teach them to pray. Discipleship breeds disciples who will in turn disciple those who remain with them behind bars after the members of the local parish leave.

Step three is where we get more uncomfortable. We make it a priority to ordain not only deacons but priests as chaplains and as church planters to plant missions and parishes behind bars. Jails are short-term missions, with many rotating in and out typically a year or less – which is good for cultivating and creating relationships behind bars with the incarcerated person and learning how to minister to their family on the outside. Hopefully, it will blossom with the families being reunited and worshipping together on Sundays. However, many reside at local jails and prisons but with a long-term sentence and you are the only church they will see for years. This requires committing the parish to plant behind bars and to grow the church behind bars – from the woman who has two years to serve to the man who is a lifer.

I am convinced that there is a call set upon at least one reader’s heart to go and minister to their local jail or prison. “Don’t quench the Spirit” my friend but go and “destroy strongholds” of Satan’s bondage, the world’s deceits, sinners’ despair, and the flesh’s captivity by shining Christ’s light. I assure you, those imprisoned will minister just as much – if not more – to you than you to them. We serve a God who did wonders with His saints while imprisoned, after all, therefore be prepared for surprises along the way.

We also serve the God who uses the weak to demonstrate His strength and who brings joy when we would otherwise cry and who might be calling not just you, but your parish, to give Gospel to Gentiles who are often overlooked and forgotten behind bars. Do not be surprised when your local neighbors ignore the free gift and good news while those who are at their wits’ end gladly receive it. Friends, start small and don’t be afraid to fail big. Our Lord will use you to glorify His kingdom and it is a kingdom that extends over every domain of man, thanks be the God! May our young men dream dreams and this old soul lean into visions of transforming prisons into true penitentiaries; from prison cells into monastic cells; and from penal institutions to parish plants.

Series Navigation<< Freedom Behind Bars – A Call for Anglicans in Prison Ministry, Part I

Rev. Andrew Brashier

Rev. Andrew Brashier serves as the Rector of Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Pelham, Alabama. and is an Archdeacon overseeing the Parish and Missions Deanery in the Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy. He writes regularly about ministry, family worship, daily prayer, book reviews, family oratories and the impact they can have in reigniting Anglicanism, and the occasional poem at He recently republished Bishop John Jewel's Treatises on the Holy Scriptures and Sacraments ( The second edition of his first book, A Faith for Generations, is now available at Amazon ( and focuses on family devotions and private prayer in the Anglican tradition.

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