A bridge to a new life
by Katie Pearn
“The ground is level at the foot of the cross” -Charles Colson
Peter Worsley, Corrections Reintegration Chaplain with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Alberta, is passionate about seeing offenders receive not only the chance for a fresh start, but helping them take the necessary steps to make a new life a reality.
Bridge Ministries (Community Chaplaincy) is a safe community reintegration project for inmates funded by Correctional Services Canada (CSC), MCC and the community, and as the name suggests, serves as a bridge between inmates and the community. The project runs across Canada in approximately 20 faith-community reintegration projects through CSC.
“This program is particularly for those guys who have a faith base and are interested in connecting to a church or another faith community,” says Worsley. “I mostly work with Catholics and Mainstream and Evangelical Protestants, or those who are interested in joining those communities once they are released.”
As the community chaplain, Worsley routinely visits provincial and federal prisons where offenders can elect to meet him. He also receives referrals from prison chaplains, as they know which inmates attend chapel and would like some support. Their primary goal is to help the offenders to reintegrate into society, and to not commit another offense or be victimized.
“We not only help them connect into the faith community but provide some practical and spiritual support,” says Worsley. “We have our own thrift store, where they buy clothes, and we help them get bus tickets and practical things like that.”
Worsley also invests relationally in the lives of the men he works with. “I’ll take them for coffee, lunch or breakfast just to chat and give them the opportunity to talk about things that are on their mind. Maybe to vent a little bit because it’s difficult after you’ve been in prison for quite a while to come back into the community. You have to find work; most of the guys are staying in shelters because they have no money.”
To create those bridges between inmates and the church, Worsley also connects directly with churches where he meets with pastors or members who are willing to befriend one of the offenders and take them to church with them.
Over his many years doing this work, Worsley has seen the amazing impact it has on the lives of the inmates, and the proof is in the numbers. His studies have shown, when looking back on the men he’s worked with, that 95 percent of them have stayed out of prison, and those who did go back, were not because of re-offending, but rather breaching conditions. Compare this with an average of 50 per cent, as reported by the correctional officers Worsley has spoken with, and you can’t deny that it is working.
“I would say that, in part, it’s because we are there for the guys, but it’s much more than that.” says Worsley. “God’s working in their lives. They are trying to make changes and they want to have a better life. They’ve recognized what they’ve done is wrong and they are sorry for it. We talk to them about trying to make up for what they’ve done, and they can’t change the past, but they can certainly start doing good things for others and they start to do that.”
When asked how the church can support his work, Worsley turns to the example of Jesus. “I encourage the body of Christ to be available and open-minded about it. To think of Christ’s mercy for others as he is merciful to all of us,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for a second chance and for guys to be restored into the community. And that’s what we want too, as Christians, right? We’re trying to provide these opportunities for others just as it’s been provided for us to be reconciled with God when we’ve done something wrong.”
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”