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Faith Community Reintegration Program
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By Mike Toth



Matthew 25: 36, 40: I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

The day of release for a prisoner from the Federal prison system is a mixed bag of emotions. The relief of finally making it into the light of day is tempered by the fact that many have burned bridges with family and are being released with little support. There is a pilot program, however, that is attempting to address some of these issues.

The Faith Community Reintegration Program, funded by Corrections Canada and administered by the Mennonite Central Committee, seeks to link interested Federal inmates who are on parole with churches or individuals who wish to live out their faith in support of them. Program Coordinator Steph Chandler Burns recruits and trains interested churches working out of the parole office in London.

“People come into the community needing help with getting identification, jobs, housing supports, etc.,” says Burns. “We equip faith communities to help with the practical things, and to help in a way that is safe.”

Referrals to the program can be made by the parolee themselves, or through a parole officer or chaplain. The first stop in London for either volunteers or participants in the program is the Dismas Fellowship which meets monthly at the First Church of the Nazarene. The Dismas Fellowship seeks to provide a safe place for those leaving the correction system to experience Christian fellowship and is a safe way for volunteers to begin relationship with individuals of different back grounds and experiences.

Burns took social development studies in university, has a Master of Theology degree and fully expected to become a church pastor. Burns says that God has liked to upset her expectations, especially in this ministry.

“I am unapologetically on the side of the victim, but it’s more complicated than just that. I am living out a commitment to both the victim and the suspect, a commitment to healing and reconciliation.” “The profound love of God for each one of us doesn’t pass over any of us, and that is incredibly redemptive. As we do work in ministry of any kind we need to remember that. We need to ask the tough (and uncomfortable) questions. It can be messy and filled with conflicts, but it is the love of God that holds us together.”

The Faith Community Reintegration Program is a part of the Restorative Justice program at Mennonite Central Committee Ontario. If you or your church are interested in helping the participants in the program, you can call Steph Chandler Burns at (226) 808-3129 or email her at stephchandlerburns@mcco.ca. More information on the Mennonite Central Committee can be found at mcccanada.ca.