Mennonite Central Committee's chaplaincy programs in Alberta and Ontario are facing a fund gap following the Canadian government's decision to change how it supports community chaplaincy services for ex-prisoners.
MCC’s chaplaincy programs in these provinces are funded partially by Correctional Service Canada’s (CSC) chaplaincy program and supplemented by other sources of funding.
Under a new funding model taking effect April 2013, CSC chaplaincy funds will be used exclusively for full-time positions, says Stephen Siemens, coordinator of MCC Canada’s restorative justice program.
“MCC Canada is submitting a proposal for funding under this new model,” says Siemens. “If this funding does not come through, that means MCC has to find $85,000 for the work in Alberta and Ontario to continue.”
Through MCC Alberta’s chaplaincy program, Peter Worsley provides ex-prisoners with the spiritual and practical support they need to transition back into life in Calgary.
“Community chaplaincy works,” says Worsley. A survey taken in August 2012 showed that 95 per cent of the 233 men and women he had worked with between 2006 and 2008 were living crime free lives.
While the offenders are still in prison, Worsley meets with them to talk about their plans for re-entry into the community. “When they come to Calgary they often step off the bus with nothing. They have no money, food, clothing, housing or jobs.
“If we weren’t there to support them, it would be easy for them to go back to their old friends and a life of crime. We help them get connected with volunteers, churches and community resources in Calgary.
“It is a simple process—it is seeing ex-prisoners as human beings and giving them the support they need to become part of a greater community.”
In Southern Ontario, Shauna Mayer offers similar chaplaincy support to women released from the Grand Valley Institution for Women.
“MCC, through our restorative justice program, will not abandon our faith based presence and relationships with individuals released from prison,” says Eileen Henderson, coordinator of MCC Ontario restorative justice programs.
Her commitment is shared by Kim Thiessen, acting director of MCC Alberta. “It is our hope that we can find ways to continue this program,” she says. “It is about rescuing the human spirit in a very real way. We can’t put a price on it.”
Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada
--Nov. 23, 2012