The visit took place as part of the Moderator’s tour of the Church's Ards Presbytery, when the Moderator visited the Centre and met with staff and young people, as well as Rev Colin Megaw.
“I was most interested to visit Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre and see at first hand the important work being done by a large team of dedicated staff, who often work in challenging circumstances. The young people I met, and the work that I saw confirmed to me that the grace of God is offered to all, without exception, and that Christ has the power to transform the lives of all who seek him,” Dr Henry said.
“Our prison chaplains work hard to bring the love of Christ to those in custody, their families, and to the community of staff and officers. They are to be commended for the important work they do.”
Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre, which opened in 2007, seeks to provide a safe, secure and stimulating environment for up to 48 boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 17 placed there in custody. It offers a wide range of services and support that is tailored to each young person’s specific and age-related needs. This is to support their reintegration to the community upon release and help prevent their re-offending.
Dr Henry said that he was particularly impressed with the new faith course, called ‘RESTORE’ that had been written especially for the young people in Woodlands by the chaplaincy team. Explaining what it meant, he said, “‘RE’ stands for ‘Real Evidence’, ‘ST’ stands for ‘Secret Treasure’, ‘OR’ stands for ‘Offered Relationship’ and E stands for ‘Everyone’. I hope and trust many of the young people will take part in the course in this its pilot year.”
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland ministers to prisoners and staff across all Northern Ireland’s various institutions. These also include HMPs Maghaberry, Magilligan and Hydebank Wood College which incorporates the Northern Ireland Women’s Prison. Presbyterian ministers also minister to young people at Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre in Bangor and visit prisons in the Republic of Ireland, on request.
The Moderator’s visit comes ahead of Prisons’ Week, which this year is taking place between 13 and 19 October. The theme for the annual event is “What does freedom mean to you?”
Beginning in England and Wales in 1975 as ‘Prisoners’ Week’, it provided an annual focus and reason for Christians to work together to make a difference for people who were in prison. It became ‘Prisons Week’ in 1995, and today its primary aim is to pray for and raise awareness of the needs of prisoners and their families, victims of offenders and prison staff.
The Moderator concluded by saying, “As followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Church believes that true freedom can only be found in Him. I would encourage people to pray that all, including those in prison, will indeed find freedom in Him, and have their lives transformed.”
Photo: Pictured at the Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre at Rathgael are (left to right) Rev Colin Megaw, Presbyterian Chaplain at the Centre, Presbyterian Moderator, Dr William Henry, Brian Ingram, Director of Woodland’s Juvenile Justice Centre and the convenor of the Church's Healthcare, Forces and Prisons’ Chaplaincy Committee, Rev Robert Bell.
As part of Prisons’ Week, Northern Ireland Prison Service chaplains have organised an interdenominational prayer service on Tuesday, 15 October at Willowfield Parish Church, 149 My Lady’s Road, Woodstock Road, Belfast, starting at 7 pm.