God is still great but pastoral workers in Mt Eden prison have been Serco-sized

A headline in the Herald on Sunday today exposes the bugger who wrote it as seriously heathen.

It says God locked out of Mt Eden prison cells

But God is omnipresent and can’t be locked out of anything, especially prisons from which mere mortals of the criminal persuasion can and often do escape.

The HoS’s impiety is compounded in the first sentence of the story.

God has been remanded without a chance of appeal at one of our toughest prisons.

As Alf’s astute constituents will have observed, that first sentence shows the HoS hacks are profoundly confused about what exactly has happened to God, because it implies He has been locked in, not out.

But if you bother to read on to find what God might have been banged up for, you find his omnipresence has not become flawed and he has been locked neither in nor out.

Rather, some of his latter-day disciples have had a disagreement with how things should be done in the pastoral-care department.

There’s a hint the clerics might have walked out on their prison work: the prison bosses say they have left attending to the pastoral needs of the inmates.

But maybe they were told not to come back.

Both the disciples and the prison bosses – like all of us – eventually will get to meet their Maker.

They will learn then what He thinks of how they handled the disagreement.

But as Alf found, you must get to the second paragraph of the HoS to get a whiff of what’s been happening –

Inmates at Auckland’s Mt Eden prison have had church services and one-on-one meetings with men of the cloth slashed since the jail was taken over by private firm Serco five months ago.

See?

This is all about the goings-on of a very few members of His earthly flock.

The “men of the cloth”, as the HoS puts it, seem to have got hot under their collars and given up on serving the inmates of this particular prison after a run-in with the prison bosses.

Serco admitted the prison had been using a temporary chaplaincy team since four permanent padres left in October after failing to agree with the company’s plans. Serco said the situation “isn’t ideal”.

Salvation Army prison visitor Collin Mellors said he rarely attended Mt Eden any more since it was taken over by Serco.

“I used to be there a lot but since it changed hands it has become a bit awkward to re-establish yourself,” he said.

“I know that a number of inmates are unhappy because the chaplains simply aren’t there to provide a friendly face.”

One long-term prisoner has told the Herald on Sunday many men felt they were being denied a spiritual lifeline.

“Since I found the peace of God, my lag is easier to do but the past few months have been hard for a lot of people in here,” the inmate, who has asked not to be identified, said.

“Church visits have been cut from once a week to about once a month and we can’t get to see a padre when we want to.”

The prisoner said he knew of at least 30 others who had been affected. He also claimed complaints to prison bosses had fallen on deaf ears.

The nature of the disagreement between clergy and prison bosses is not explained.

Not do we know for sure if the clergy quit or were shown the door.

But we do learn (from “full time” and “part time”) that the HoS has abandoned the compound-adjective.

And we learn that the jail’s two full-time and two part-time chaplains left their jobs not long after the takeover.

Serco’s Sydney-based spokesman Paul Shaw, not the clerics, is the source of this information.

“We are advertising for two full time chaplains for Mt Eden and expect the posts to be filled within weeks,” Shaw said.

“Of course it isn’t ideal, but at present we have a transitional chaplaincy team of six who are providing pastoral care, bereavement services and mass. They are based at local churches and their availability means we can quickly meet prisoners’ requests.

“The team will remain in place when the two new posts have been filled. We place a great importance on meeting the religious and spiritual needs of prisoners,” he said.

Oh, and according to this prison spokesman, only one complaint has been received about these arrangements and there are no outstanding requests for baptisms at Mt Eden.

Alf wonders to what extent the media’s aversion to privatisation comes into things.

Mt Eden – the HoS notes – became New Zealand’s only privately-run prison in August after Serco won a 10-year contract from the Government, valued at about $380 million.

Jarrod Gilbert, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, has seized on this while clucking about a situation of “great concern”.

“Before Mt Eden was put into private hands, there were concerns that this would lead to financial corners being cut and, as a consequence, inmates would suffer,” Gilbert said.

“If new measures like cutting the number of chaplains have been introduced so that a private management company can make greater profits, then I think a lot of people would be very worried about that.

“Alarm bells should be ringing. If they are cutting back on chaplains you have to wonder what else is going on.”

Alf doesn’t much care what is going on, actually, so long as the inmates remain locked up and – when they come out, as eventually they must do – they do not re-offend.

That will be the measure of the worth of privatised management.

As to the matter of God being locked in or out, depending on whether you believe the headline or the first paragrah, let’s get to grips with what God’s omnipresence means.

In Jeremiah 23:24 God declares, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?”

This means God is present in all places, but He has no physical or material dimensions.

It is as spirit that He is everywhere, in heaven, earth and hell. Although it surpasses the understanding of creatures such as we are, who are limited and bound to material bodies, God Himself is present everywhere in His majesty and power.

Another of Alf’s sources explains it this way:

The universe that God created finds the Creator everywhere. He is everywhere present. There is no place that a person can hide and no chance that a believer will out of His protective care. He is everywhere present in His works and in His personality. This does not mean that God is the same as the universe – merely that His presence is everywhere in the universe. The truth of God’s omnipresence if comforting for the believer for no one can escape God’s notice.

The HoS hacks would do well to go back to Sunday school.

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