Seminar 1

Lost in wonder, love and praise’: Prayer and the road from crime.

Dr Ruth Amstrong, Co-Director of ‘Learning Together’, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge.


This talk is grounded in research about the process of desistance from crime. Desistance theory is built from empirical research about how people move away from crime. Contrary to media portrayals and public perceptions research shows that most people who are convicted of criminal offences move away from offending behaviour across their life course. This process involves both individual and social elements which interact to make the route away from crime more or less likely. Ruth will draw on the words of the famous hymn, ‘Love Divine all Loves excelling’ by Charles Wesley, and findings from her research into the ways in which people rebuild their lives after prison, to question the extent to which Wesley’s pleas for the kinds of unceasing prayers that ‘fix in us Thy humble dwelling’, draw on ‘compassion’ and ‘unbounded love’, and crown ‘faithful mercies’, are defensible ways to think about praying and being in response to the harms of crime.


A full video of the talk will be available once it has been edited. Ruth’s slides are available at this link.

Ruth structured her talk around seven “take home messages” from her research and that of others. She linked each of these to a reflection on how we should pray and a line of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Love divine, all loves excelling“.

Love matters
      Pray in love
           “Love divine all loves excelling


We are all criminals
      Pray in humility
           “Fix in us they humble dwelling


Stigma and prejudice blight success
      Keep praying in humility
           “All thy faithful mercies crown


Most people move away from crime
      Pray in faith
           “Pure unbounded love thou art”


People change together (and changed people change institutions)
      Pray together
           “Serve thee as thy hosts above


Desistance often involves reoffending
      Keep praying in faith without ceasing
           “Take away our bent for sinning


De-railed desistance can re-rail
      Pray in wonder and praise
           “Lost in wonder, love and praise


The hymn that was written in response to the keynote by Andrew Pratt is entitled “Love matters for our future” and can be found at this link.

The headings below in blue are hyperlinks to further resources where available.

Recording (The video of the interview with Ruth will be available once it has been edited.

Reflecting (The reflections of the different groups are still being compiled.)

Responding ( A selection of prayers written in response to the keynote talk.)

Resourcing (Links to relevant hymns, Bible passages, internet resources and books).