Through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, we have sought to feed the hungry. Through MCC we have worked at digging wells so the thirsty may drink; we have welcomed the refugee so they may have a new home and through thriftshops, the naked have received clothes. Through our concern for the elderly, we have built wonderful nursing homes so we have a place to care for and visit the sick, and in 1974, the Conference of Mennonites of Saskatchewan said it was time to set up a program to visit the inmate.
So 40 years ago, Orville Andres, after completing his tenure as pastor of Grace Mennonite Church, became the first director of Person-to-Person, a prison visitation program, . . . and in those 40 years, we have been blessed.
But it wasn't an easy start. Even though Jesus welcomes the criminal beside him on the cross as the first person into paradise, many in the church were resistant to this work. When Orville spoke to pastors, the response was often "If it doesn't bring more people into our pews, we aren't interested," or worse, "They should just lock the door and throw away the key." But the program slowly grew.
After Orville served as director for 8 years, Dale Schiele gave strong leadership for next 32 years, providing visitors for over 2000 inmate. In those early years, most of the visitors came from various Mennonite Churches. But in the last decade, this has been changing as others have joined us in this important work. We now have volunteers from the Roman Catholic Church, the Alliance, from Non-denominational and right now, I believe we have six volunteers from the United Church, including one fellow who drives in from Kerrobert once a month to visit at SaskPen.
We have folks like Dave Whalley, who has been visiting for over 15 years and sits as Chair of our board.
We have some volunteers who visited the same guy for the last 30 years, becoming good friends in the process; we have one couple that have visited since the first visit 40 years ago and we have some new volunteers who just started last month.
Right now we have about 60 volunteers in our visitation program and another 10 involved with Circles of Support and Accountability for released offenders who put in roughly 3000 hours a volunteering year.
Thank-you for the support of our programs. The United Church shares a passion for social justice and social concerns along with the Mennonite Church, so a program like ours is a natural place to work together. There is so much need in our community, and behind the wall, that I hope some of you will consider volunteering with us.
I am also here to say thank-you for your annual financial support. For 25 years we received 60% of our income from Corrections Services Canada, but as with everything else these days, our contract was cut last year, leaving the future of our program in jeopardy. But with the support of the Tamarack Presbytery, along with other Mennonite and non-Mennonite churches, we have found enough funding and faith so this important ministry can continue!
Because of this funding cut, Person-to-Person Prince Albert has gone through significant changes this last year, and while I don't want to spend time here sharing all of them, we were reminded that times of uncertainty and chaos can be the very times God is about to do something new and exciting. One of those new and exciting things is that we have become a registered charity called Parkland Restorative Justice, INC. In recognition that other churches and denominations are joining us in this ministry, we felt it was a good time to broaden our base so that these new partners can officially sit on our board and that we can issue our own donation receipts.
This is not a move away from our Mennonite Church Saskatchewan roots, as they still provide significant funds and volunteers, but a branching out and growth from the sturdy, strong soil we came from. Under Parkland Restorative Justice, we will continue to run Person-to-Person and Circles of Support and Accountability, but as needs and funds arise, we hope to expand in other areas where restorative ministries can be used to create safe and flourishing communities.
Your on going support makes this possible. But it wouldn't happen unless folks felt a call in their lives to meet Christ in this surprising way. Yes we hear how the media portrays inmates, but when the stigma is removed, when the labels have been dropped and you are visiting, drinking coffee and eating a chocolate bar, you will see the person across the table is a human being, made in the image of God, in need of friendship and forgiveness, community and hope, just like the rest of us.
Adapted from a message by - Ryan Siemens
A Restorative Justice Anniversary Celebration was held in Prince Albert, May 4 @ 3:00 - 6:00 pm, at Grace Mennonite Church, Prince Albert. Sk.
Profile: One of the Least of These - Mike
Back to MCCS's 50th Anniversary - index Or; Jan: IVEP | Feb: Thrift Shop Movement | Mar: Canadian Foodgrains Bank| Apr: Ten Thousand Villages | May: Restorative Justice | June: Relief Sale | July: Refugee Assistance | Aug: Aboriginal Neighbours (Historical overview) | Sept: Governance | Oct: Music Gala