In our ongoing series of reflections from members of the wider CCS community, 2012 graduate Tracy Robertson writes:
I began a new calling in July, 2011 – just before starting my Integrating Year at CCS. What was I thinking? On top of it all, my calling was as Chaplain at the Calgary Young Offender Centre which, as you can imagine, is nothing like a pastoral charge. But I decided I would look at the Centre as my pastoral charge and everyone (youth, yes, but also correctional staff, administration, health care, and school staff) in the building as the congregation. Despite that awesomely positive outlook, I struggled for the first 8 months in my new role. Working in a prison was a huge learning curve for me and it took a very long time to get adjusted. Thankfully, the chaplains across the country to whom I reached out gave me great support and guidance which gave me the perseverance to carry on.
I thought that as soon as I was finished school, graduated and commissioned that my life would become more manageable. Even as I write that, I’m laughing! It seems I’m just as busy, sometimes even more busy, than when I worked and went to school. Not sure how that worked out. I’m excited to not only be working, but also helping in various capacities within Presbytery and offering myself for pulpit supply when needed. I’m excited to have this position recognized by the United Church and am very blessed to be able to speak to congregations around Calgary about my work with the youth in prison. I feel as though I can be of help in bringing understanding of the incarcerated to people in our congregations. The blessing of being able to share my experiences about this population has been extraordinary.
There have been many opportunities for me to encourage United Church folks to become involved in Prison Ministry. Many people have come to me after a service to reveal to me that they have had loved ones incarcerated. It’s not an easy topic to talk about in ‘normal’ conversation and many times it’s family and friends who also suffer along with the offender. We also can never forget the victims of crime as well as their loved ones – crime doesn’t just affect victim and offender….there are many other people who are affected as well. Being able to speak openly to me about a loved one’s crimes allows people to feel a bit of relief when carrying such a burden.
The generosity of United Churches is amazing. For example, the incarcerated youth daily use pocket calendars to keep track of court dates, release dates, visits from loved ones, school schedules, programs of interest, when their favorite menu items are featured, and much more. This year, our original funding for 500 pocket calendars fell through and I reached out to the pastoral charges in Calgary Presbytery for help. In no time, I had both congregations and individuals committing to donating anywhere from $50 to $100 and the cost of the calendars was covered! The Spirit truly moves in mysterious, and very thankful, ways.
I am very thankful to Symons Valley United Church who ‘adopted’ me as an Honorary Associate Minister which enables me to have an added support for my ministry. I’m able to register all the baptisms I’ve performed (7 since June 3!), show videos under their license coverage, and obtain a license to marry people. They’ve been a huge blessing to me.
I absolutely feel as though my calling in the prison is to bring hope to the hopeless. Hope when a story is told and heard and honored. Hope when a safe space is offered for venting or honest reflection and conversation. Hope when working towards baptismal vows that are taken seriously. Hope when scripture is permitted to be interpreted from a gang point of view because that’s all that’s known. Hope when my friendship and non-judgment can be a model of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. Being a part of helping the youth feel truly whole enables me to feel more whole. And being able to share their stories with others might enable more wholeness in the world as well. It is working towards this wholeness that gives me this unique experience which I have acknowledged, while continuing to explore my heart for prisoners. Thanks be to God!