Robert has attended Open Door meetings every Tuesday evening since meetings started in September 2001 (except for a couple of health-related absences) – much as many of you, and I, have been at church every Sunday morning for many years.
The principal likeness is that for many who attend, Open Door is their intentional community, as is church for you. Though many at Open Door may not acknowledge, or even understand the likeness, for me it is deep and essential. In each case there is the experience, and nourishment of communion, a coming together significantly in a transition from one condition, typically involving isolation and mistrust, to another condition, of acceptance, respect, inclusion, trust and affection.
It is that spiritual dimension of transition, of life–in-change, that I see as essential in the experience of communion which takes place in the movement of the Sunday liturgy and which is also at the heart of the Open Door experience. Even if I would not use this language with Robert or other fellow pilgrims at Open Door, each is liturgical, each is sacramental, they share a common worldly path on which Kingdom is ever possible, even sometimes near.
Open Door is the flagship activity of MSCM (Montreal-Southwest Community Ministries), a weekly community meeting that is held each Tuesday evening in Fulford Hall, attended by ex-prisoners now in the community, by volunteers and by inmates on escorted absence from the three minimum security federal penitentiaries in the region. Since we began to use the excellent facilities of Fulford Hall, Open Door has consistently enjoyed high attendance, usually between 30 and 40 people though as many as 65. These meetings are the crossroads where all are welcome, volunteers both serving as well as learning and developing personally in their encounters with our beneficiaries and each other, while prisoners and ex-prisoners have opportunities, otherwise unavailable to them, to mix and exercise themselves socially, enhancing their prospects for successful reintegration.
At each meeting we reflect together prayerfully or spiritually, we engage important life issues, and we celebrate being community, for and with one another. As deacon and chaplain, I am mandated, perhaps even gifted, to speak of our marginality, of transition, of thresholds, of our turnings toward the better, toward the more sacred, and of doing so together. For me there is no doubt that just as Sunday Liturgy carries us in this kind of transition of life, so does Open Door for those who choose it as their place, their path of transition, of turning.
The transition which is at play at Open Door is that of the social integration of ex-prisoners – Jesus’ response to “Lord, when did we see you in prison? is challenge enough, encouraging us, as it does, to visit those in prison but greater perhaps is the challenge to welcome the prisoner back into the community. This is the movement, the transition, that is at play at Open Door. In our shared desire for safety, peace and shared accountability in our community we are embarked upon a personal and shared journey at Open Door, accepting a call beyond the squint of condemnation, punishment and exclusion into which we so easily fall, to the eyes-open practice of radical hospitality and love for one-another that Jesus’ Gospel proclaims and celebrates – just as you do it to one of the least… who are members of my family, you do it to me. At both church and at Open Door we are committed to this same welcome for the stranger, to working at not creating strangers, to being in communion.
Robert is one of hundreds who grace our Open Door community by their participation. He is one that has stayed on longer than most because a relationship of reciprocal service has developed and gives witness to the communion we are. We are blessed by the many we don’t see anymore who have gone on to lead productive lives in the wider community, just as we are blessed by the ones like Robert who are present still and we pray that we may bless those whose transition is more tentative and whose participation and turning has interruptions.