A faith-based program at the Fayette County Detention Center using pastoral experience, Correctional psychology, Wisdom traditions including AA, group dynamics and volunteers. The project coordinator has 17 years experience in correctional consulting and 40 years experience in pastoral counseling (overlapping :-)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What ministry can serve to recruit....?

What Ministry Can Serve to Recruit

a Reluctant Non-canonical priest?

(A possible story for Diaspora?)

by Paschal Baute

One of the best "treats" in attending many conventions of married priests has been the learning of the diverse ministries shared by those attending, learning mostly informally, between workshops, which was often the best part for me.

(I have wondered why we have not featured our own more than seek known inspirational speakers?. The most telling remark I ever heard was a casual one, from a newly married priest who shared: "I have had more self-empying in my young marriage than I ever had in my priesthood!")

In central Kentucky I have served for many years as informal convener of our group of colleagues but a particular challenge was always out of my reach. One married priest friend would attend our conferences, listen politely but remain skeptical of any personal involvement in ministry, sometimes raising conservative type questions about what we were doing. He was devout and bright but remained aloof from return to the ministries we were doing. Multi-lingual, he was successful in business and later in college teaching, he was personable with many friends. He was not interested in FCM or Corpus.

In the summer of 2002, I began looking around for more opportunity to exercise priestly ministry. I began by asking myself where among human needs was a Catholic priest seldom seen? Nursing homes, retirement villages and the county jail or detention center was the answer. I took on all three, but this is the story of the third, the county detention center here with 1200 beds. I began visiting inmates with the correctional chaplain for several months in that summer. We would go together to answer particular inmate requests. I soon began to feel that I could do much more than one on one visits.

I had worked in correctional settings for some 16 years, ran many therapy groups both there and elsewhere, and retreats with much interfaith work. That August, I conceived and proposed a difference kind of therapeutic program, interfaith, accepting all Wisdom traditions, but emphasizing the tools of spiritual growth, not talk about God or the Bible. After much discussion, the principles were approved. Fortunately, then Lt. Eads, a Buddist, was the instrumental as administrative "gatekeeper." I started alone in March of 2003. I quickly realized it this kind of program was going to work, we would need more volunteers and I began recruiting, eventually some ten who would last. It was not until we had regular daily lessons for example, that the inmates were motivated to have their own afternoon group sessions and lake leadership roles. Volunteers gave two hours per week at the time of their choice, and basically shared their own faith journey with some attention to the workbook of exercises developed by myself. The program was called "The Fierce Landscape for the Spiritual Warrior." The philosophy was that these repeat addictive offenders needed a rude environment for a spiritual "boot-camp" experience and the hard work at hand.

Our Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky, meeting since 1989 was our sponsoring group and source of early volunteers. By early 2004, we had recruited almost enough volunteers although there was turn over. (Now we have a half day training every 3 months for our program volunteers). Busy though he was, now teaching at two universities, and having only a few hours on Saturday morning free, I decided to call on my reluctant married priest friend. Could he, would he respond to this obvious human need where he needed to bring only his own faith witness? He did not need to do sacraments. To my surprise, he said yes and this gave the program six daily lessons to fill a week.

My friend has been one of the most regular of all volunteers rarely missing a session only upon necessity – where regularity is important to our program inmates. Recently, my friend told me, "Paschal, you have given my priesthood back to me!"

He is so involved, passionate and competent in this weekly lessons that I learned some inmates plan all week to come up with a question about God, faith or religion that might stump him. So profound and learned is his faith, that I cannot imagine Rev. Father Guido Caspani, Ph.D., Professor of Romance Languages, teaching Spanish, French and Italian and Honors Programs in two current universities, is ever stumped!

What makes this program "work" best of all is that the inmates experience the loving commitment of a diverse group of faithful volunteers, regularly. They experience faith being expressed in many ways. Chaplain Howell told me he once asked the inmate group whether they thought I was "Christian." They finally agreed that I was indeed a Christian but a "very different kind of one." Should we all be so?

Inmates must complete 12 weeks of work, behavior change, before they can earn a certificate. We do have too much turn over in a detention, basically a holding facility, but over 100 have had some exposure to our program and many have told us it is the best program they have ever been part of.

The program has been blessed in many ways, the quality of the volunteers, and by the recent chaplain who jumped in and became one of the program leaders. He tell us this group is the highlight of his work week. I think it is because he observes real change coming out of the group process that is ongoing.

I was surprised and humbled when Guido told me what he did. I never thought I might be a tool in someone recovering their lost priestliness.

What was it? What was the key here?

Was it "When the student is ready the teacher will appear." (Zen Saying?) Simply timely?

Or was it that anointed and blessed hands are haunted by some words:

"The Spirit of the Lord has been give to me

for he has anointed me.

He has sent to bring good news to the poor

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and to the blind new sight.

To set the downtrodden free

and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor."

–Luke 4: 18-19, Jerusalem Bible.

When we hear that Voice, we cannot help but respond.

Outcome? Guido is blessed. I am blessed. The inmates in our program are blessed. The program and the team of volunteers is blessed. Correctional staff in the unit of 8 pods with 96 inmates notices behavior changes. A bit of kindness and love has been added to the universe. There is hope where there was none. The universe itself smiles.



Further information on this program can be found at paschal’s web site, paschalbaute.com, clicking on blogs and go down to Fierce Landscape blog. The workbook has been digitized and is now available free via email. Contact Paschal@paschalbaute.com.

Reference (and recommended, see internet for reviews)

Lane, Belden C. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.


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