The parable of the judgment of the nations from Matthew 25 made a big impression on me as a child. The repeated injunction, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me, and its negative counterpart, are both striking, simple and memorable.
Most of us have likely had some experience responding to the first part of this petition; feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, clothing the naked and welcoming the stranger. We are called to engage in this ministry at the congregational level and through the work of Canadian Lutheran World Relief and many other partners.
But how much experience have you had with the last part of the injunction—visiting the prisoner?
I know for me personally I have never visited anyone inside a prison. I have encountered people who have been to prison, but I have not been a part of accompanying them through the process or welcoming them back into the community. For some reason we treat this as specialized ministry.
We give thanks for those who work in Corrections and the Criminal Justice System, especially for those who serve as chaplains, but for most of us, we don’t have the same involvement in this ministry.
At the 2015 National Convention this past July, we adopted an ELCIC Resolution on the Criminal Justice and Correctional Sys-
tems in Canada (find the full document here: elcic.ca/Public-Policy/documents/CriminalJusticeMotionFINAL.pdf). In this resolution we commit ourselves to further study on justice and corrections, to prayer, to working with partners, and to participate in Restorative Justice Week.
This year, Restorative Justice Week takes place Nov. 15–22. The ELCIC Resolution on the Criminal Justice and Correctional Systems in Canada defines restorative justice this way:
“While established approaches have given emphasis to punishment as a solution to crime, restorative justice lifts up the importance of the restoration of broken relationships. While accustomed policies focus upon crime as a breaking of the laws of the state, restorative justice gives emphasis to the healing of broken relationships as a goal of bringing about justice. This changed lens views justice as restoring and healing relationships between victims and offenders and the larger community. The focus of restorative justice is on conflict resolution rather than adversarial postures between victims and offenders.”
The Correctional Service Canada (CSC) website encourages us to “discover the many uses of restorative justice. Explore how restorative justice can deal with harm in different situations: families, neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces, etc. Think about how restorative justice values and principles can be applied to every day challenges.”
Resources for Restorative Justice Week can be ordered through the following link: csc-scc.gc.ca/restorative-justice/003005-2001-eng.shtml. You can also find resources for Restorative Justice Week from the Church Council on Justice and Corrections at ccjc.ca/restorative-justice-week. In our Evangelical Lutheran Worship, you can find a petition for courts of justice on page 77 and one for prisons and correctional institutions on page 80.
I invite you to join me in living out our Lord’s invitation to minister to him through ministering to others by participating in Restorative Justice Week this year. The first call to action in the ELCIC Resolution on the Criminal Justice and Corrections Systems in Canada states: “The ELCIC is dedicated to a prayerful approach for addressing the challenges of the criminal justice and correctional systems in Canada, and commits to praying for all who are affected by crime and the criminal justice system, including victims, offenders and all who work in the corrections and public safety fields.”
Let’s take a first step in living out the commitments we have made by joining in prayer together this Nov. 15–22. Let us open ourselves to the work of the Spirit and see how we may be called to live out other aspects of our commitments.
National Bishop Susan Johnson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada