Maybe the ninth beatitude should be, ‘Blessed are the prisoners, for they themselves will bless.’
Some weeks ago, the Maranoa Warrego parishes dug around in the gospel reading from Matthew that was listed for All Saints’ Day – The Beatitudes (or ‘blessings’). We were encouraging each other to pray for the sort of character that blesses the communities in which we live.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have had cause to pause and ponder at how richly Maranoa Warrego people are blessed by those who come into our communities for a time, touch lives for the good, and then depart. There is one particular heartwarming example I would like to share with you.
The Department of Corrective Services has regional work camps for low-security inmates. They were established way back in the 1990s, when low-risk inmates were sent to Charleville, in the Warrego, to help clean up after significant flooding. In our Diocesan region we now have work camps in Warwick, Mitchell, Charleville, St George and Dirranbandi. Two of these, Mitchell and Charleville, are in the Maranoa Warrego Anglican Mission Area.
The thinking behind participation in a work program is that it allows inmates to give back to the community, develop new skills, and provide them with opportunities to build trust. The work they do includes, but is not restricted to, maintaining fences around community infrastructure; lawn mowing and maintenance at public cemeteries, playgrounds and showgrounds; and, building and restoring structures in public spaces, such as picnic tables in community parks.
In both Mitchell and Charleville, they also maintain our large churchyards. All Saints’ Anglican Church in Mitchell is on about an acre and All Saints’ Anglican Church in Charleville is on about two acres, so the work is intensive. They also bless us by being part of our congregation every Sunday at All Saints’, Mitchell. Each work camp has only 12 workers and, pre-COVID-19, half of these folk were coming to church each week. However, when COVID-19 restrictions began back in March, all the workers were taken back to the correctional centre at Palen Creek near Beaudesert. In July they were allowed back into the work camps, but were restricted to the camps and were not allowed to do any work in town or even come into town. It was only last week that they were permitted back into towns.
Anyway, I digress, so back to the blessing. The workers are paid $10 per day for a standard working day, starting at 7am. In Mitchell, pre-COVID-19, one Sunday a Department of Corrections cheque for $500 was placed in the collection plate, and the following week a further cheque for $250 was given. The boys had authorised the department to take the money out of their respective accounts so they could make a gift to the church. Now, this $750 represents 75 days of hard yakka in the western Queensland heat! What overwhelming and gracious generosity! They truly gave all they had, just like the widow gave all she had in Mark 12.42-43. Not only that, but each week they also toiled in their kitchen to bring us truly extravagant food for morning tea. Trifle! Eton mess! Who doesn’t love a complicated layered dessert topped with cream?
In terms of the Beatitudes, what can we say? These inmates are poor in spirit and mourn the impact of their past choices on the lives of their loved ones. They have shown themselves to be meek, humble and gentle in heart. They are also peacemakers, as they strive to make peace with the society that they used to war with. So, what blessing has flowed to them from their renewed character?
The six who came to our services have now been released, with one deported to the country he came from. We keep in contact with four of them. All have found work, even in these times of COVID-19, and all have found church communities who love and accept them. One has found a companion to love and partner through life. The blessings have flowed to our church through their true and real witness to the love and unconditional forgiveness of God. I am filled with joy every time I think of them and hear from them, which is an experience of the kingdom of heaven.
By supporting the Bush Ministry Fund (BMF), we can ensure the Church’s presence and support for all who come into our communities – even if just for a time. The Anglican Church is respected in the Maranoa Warrego as we have a long history serving here. Please consider the BMF as part of your parish’s mission programs. It is a truly vital piece of this wonderful mosaic that we call the ‘Anglican Church Southern Queensland’.Jump to next article