Reaching the Least of These
For 25 years a chaplaincy ministry in Moncton, NB has been successfully helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society.
by Lynda MacGibbon
The pants are obviously too big, but the polite young man takes them with a word of thanks and a quick smile. He’s starting a new job today and he needs black dress pants. He has a belt at home. They’ll do fine.
… the organization has also been used as a model for communities in England.
Rev. David Way sits down, shrugs in his easy manner and observes, “That’s the kind of thing we do.”
Giving away pants, offering a cup of coffee, helping someone find a job, putting groceries in a family’s kitchen—these are the kinds of things Moncton Community Chaplaincy for Ex-offenders has been doing for 25 years. And the agency does it all for people who some would say are the least deserving in our society—for men and women who have committed crimes and who have been in prison to pay their dues.
“We take (the Gospel of) Matthew seriously,” says David, quoting Jesus’ words in chapter 25: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
The ‘least’ adds up to about 300 people a year who find their way to the chaplaincy office on Gordon Street in Moncton’s downtown core. In addition to providing direct services to clients on the street, David and his volunteers also visit men and women in prison, encourage families who live in other places, and serve as a connection to the broader community—churches, social agencies and individuals who all play a role in helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society.
“We’re here to be a bridge, or a pier,” says David. “People at sea need a place to get out of the water before they head to land. Our mandate is to be a connection. We’re not here to be a subculture of ex-offenders.”
That’s been the organization’s mandate since it began as a living room gathering in the home of Rev. Pierre and Judy Allard back in 1980. Rev. Allard, who returned to Moncton to speak at the Chaplaincy’s annual banquet, was chaplain at Dorchester Penitentiary back in the fledgling days of the chaplaincy. Out of those gatherings, the Little Lighthouse was born, largely out of the vision of some of the area’s Baptist Churches.
But the ministry has grown and broadened through the years. These days, a board representing many denominations—Roman Catholic, Baptist, Wesleyan, Presbyterian and United—directs the Chaplaincy. The first chaplaincy of its kind in Canada, the organization has also been used as a model for communities in England.
Laura Hoar, the current board chair, has watched it from the early stages, when her late husband Gerald first became involved. To say she loves the agency and the people it represents would be an understatement and it wouldn’t tell the whole story.
Is it a scary organization, I ask? “You bet,” replies the diminutive, grandmotherly woman, remembering that in her early days as a volunteer, she would sit behind the street-front desk and pray that no one would come in.
But now she’s lost that fear, having become acquainted with so many clients through the years. Having served as board chair for the past 11 years, she’s seen a lot of people come and go, including several chaplains.
The door opens and an old man slips in, a gold medal clutched in his hand. “Will you bless this for me?” he asks David. The chaplain takes the medal, not sure what it is, but agrees, asking the man to use it to remind him that God loves him. After a brief prayer, the two say goodbye and the man shuffles out.
“If someone is praying to God,” says David, “I don’t care what is in their hands.”
In this agency, he says, “we’re touching people at their basic needs. I’m not a bleeding heart—we hold (clients) accountable.”
But, he adds, “this work is so simple it’s profound … do it unto the least of these.”
Lynda MacGibbon is the NB/PEI director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.