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

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series A Call for Anglicans in Prison Ministry

Why care for the prisoner? It’s a question I’ve been asked more than once by a critical inquisitor. Reflecting upon the question recently placed this small piece upon my heart and I felt compelled to share not merely my answer to the question, but the call I feel traditional Anglicans have sadly neglected far too often.

Why do I care for the prisoner? Because “if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Galatians 6:3 (ESV). As we traditional Anglicans confess each morning and evening, “O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.” Before I start to think I’m anything more than a redeemed captive, I need the reminder that I too am locked in bondage and require freedom from the only One who can break my chains.

The daily office’s confession provides much clarity as to who I am and who I am not. I am not innocent, you are not innocent, and the prisoner is not innocent when it comes to neglecting God and hating our neighbor. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23, ESV). The Law condemns us, one and all. We are each horrific offenders of the Lord’s commandments – and believe me, before you say to yourself “But at least I haven’t murdered or swindled someone out of their money like they have,” examine yourself. Such thinking smacks of the Pharisee who looks to heaven and side-eyes the tax collector in the temple behind him while saying “Thank you God I’m not a sinner, like him.” We are professionals when it comes to overlooking one’s own sin while obsessing over another person’s sin.

Far too often, we are not beating our chests and looking down at the ground while crying out kyrie eleison. Instead, when we reflect on our spiritual state in comparison to our fellow man, we pat ourselves on the back and dwell on the sweet-sounding poetry of the Lord’s Beatitudes. Allow me to share a word of caution, return to the Scriptures, and take a gander at how the Son of God expounds upon the true depth expounding and expanding upon the law in His Sermon on the Mount. We all love the Beatitudes but we ought to wince in pain when we hear that simply calling our brother “fool” endangers us to hellfire. The bar is low in our Lord’s eyes as to what constitutes murder – and I assure you I have called people far worse than “fool.” Do not get lost in the poetry of the Beatitudes and bypass the harsh realities revealed in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. We require His righteousness and do not merit any blessing apart from His grace.

As the saying goes, “But for the grace of God, there go I”; and precisely because of the grace of God, I there go – to the prisons, to the parishes, and to fellow priests, advocating for greater ministries to the incarcerated and the families impacted.

The men and women serving time are still people, despite what we may think about them. Jesus died for them just as much as He did for you or me. If He didn’t, well then He wouldn’t be the Savior. Throughout His ministry, it was the outcast, the orphan, and yes even the condemned to whom He called. Even a man executed next to our Lord came to know Him after mocking Him and repented. Not all responded to His call for repentance  –  compare the different responses of the thief on the left versus the one on the right. However, results are not the end all, be all. No, the call for us as Christians in the Anglican tradition is to be faithful stewards of the Gospel once delivered. It means taking the Gospel to those incarcerated and forgotten by their friends, family, society, and oftentimes even the church they once attended.

The reality is all of us are prisoners of our own desires, passions, and sins. Our freedom from this captivity comes through Christ alone. As one former prisoner told me, “I found freedom while behind bars.” Too many people create cages around themselves despite living outside a cell. Far too often we create prisons around our hearts when it concerns those in prison.

Prisoners are people. They are our neighbors. Many are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Many more I pray become my brothers and sisters in Christ. Each one needs help, encouragement, and investment so they will take hold of their life beyond the prison cell.

Why should prisoners have hope? Because if a prisoner does not deserve to have hope then neither do I. However, we serve a God who gives hope through Christ. Jesus, the One who willingly underwent captivity to break our bondage to sin, to death, and to Satan. He is the same who takes the persecutor and makes an apostle (St. Paul). Paul who was once the captor is now captivated by Christ to go and serve Him as Lord and Master. The Gospel must be heralded and this means we need to share the Gospel from the prisoner to the president; from the cell block to the penthouse; from the prison chapel to the local church.

It also brings to mind as a follower of Christ that how we treat our neighbor shows the faith we profess – ask Saint Paul and Saint James. That’s why I care for the prisoner. And it’s why I care for the correctional officers, the staff, and the warden watching over the prison. They matter to our Lord, so they matter to me. Often they are underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated for the exhausting hours they put in for the public good. The depths of ministering to the incarcerated are immeasurable because the ministry is not merely to one residing behind bars, but also includes their spouse, their children, their parents, and those whom they leave behind in free society. The hope we bring into the cellblock will resound and multiply as the Church also ministers to the mother who is raising children without their incarcerated father. As we minister to both the wife and children and the husband at the local jail or prison, we plant seeds for keeping the family together despite being apart.

We pray the following in the Litany each Wednesday and Friday: “That it may please thee … to show thy pity upon all prisoners and captives; We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.” The Lord tells us in Matthew 25 that whenever we visited His people while imprisoned, we visited Him. Dear friends, there are future members of the Lord’s body who have not yet heard the call of the Spirit and are awaiting someone to share Christ’s Advent with them so that they may join His flock. The Lord is calling us towards a captive audience, many of whom have hit rock bottom, though not all. They are hungry for good news, and sadly we Anglicans sit in the pews without a thought to bring freedom in Christ to those behind bars. They are awaiting us, and Christ is beckoning us to visit the sheep He has redeemed – even those sitting in the county jail, the state penitentiary, and the federal prison. But how shall they hear unless someone goes?

[F]or the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:12-15, Authorized Version

This is Part I in a series.

Series NavigationForced into the Habit – A Call for Anglicans in Prison Ministry, Part II >>

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.

'Freedom Behind Bars – A Call for Anglicans in Prison Ministry, Part I' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

(c) 2024 North American Anglican