Almost a year ago, Neil and Margie stood within a circle, surrounded by their colleagues in prison ministry as Bishop Alison anointed Neil for healing. As Neil reflected later, it was a poignant moment, feeling so many hands laid upon him, the intensity of prayer, and the awareness of God’s presence, power and love. Perhaps such a reflection was due to the fact that Neil, so accustomed to giving, was for a moment in time, the recipient of attention by friends and God who loved and respected him for his shared ministry to the marginalised and incarcerated. Recently he remembered a verse which Bp Allison used on that occasion, “God gives His people strength, He blesses them with His peace.” (Psalm 29:11) and which strengthened him in these last days.
Neil’s ministry behind bars encompassed fifteen years, often in the company of his life-long companion, Margie. The call to the imprisoned commenced in Townsville at the Stuart Creek Prison. Since then until late last year he has faithfully entered the correctional facilities with great passion to pastorally care for prisoners and staff. He previously served in Borallon, Wolston, and latterly at Woodford where he transferred to the Anglican Prison Ministry team. The General Manager, Mr Scott Collins, wrote of Neil to his staff this week, “Neil was a leader of the chaplaincy group here at Woodford Correctional Centre for many years and he did so with admirable service to his faith and to the spiritual guidance of the prisoners. Neil also understood and respected his role in ensuring he positively contributed to the work we all do here. He will be missed.” Neil’s last time in Woodford was on the 6th December when he delighted in sharing the gospel during four chapel services – no mean feat.
Typical of Neil, ever concerned for others, two weeks prior to his passing he asked a chaplaincy colleague to visit a couple of prisoners whom he hadn’t had a chance to visit when he was last there.
His heart of compassion reflected his view of God, inclusive, expansive love, non-judgemental, redemptive forgiveness, a promised future to be lived within the all embracing and readily available amazing grace. To me that epitomises Neil’s life – lived out as the face of Christ to others, meeting prisoners, accepting their story and position, being willing to walk alongside them in their confusions, disappointments, struggles and confinement, and to do it exhibiting great patience and love. He sometimes would attend court to advocate for men he knew had been treated unjustly. I am certain many a prisoner have been spiritually and emotionally resurrected by Neil’s patient and gentle example and guidance.
The chaplains and prisoners alike will miss his smile, and those occasion when in conversation he would almost stop, have this expressions of awesomeness come across his face, and just be caught, as though for the first time, in the great wonder and revelation at the love and magnificence of God.
In Neil’s letter of resignation from chaplaincy, on the 18th December last year he wrote, “I am thankful to God for the privilege of working with faithful people. It’s reassuring to know that we each face the future in His hands.” He loved his wife and family, prisoners, all people equally. He served with great humility and joy and it was a privilege to be mentored and to celebrate life and ministry alongside him.
– by Jesse Caulfield