For many years I was the chaplain at Bear Creek Correctional Centre near Clearwater. You might think that it would be easy for a minister/pastor to do the job, but there were some challenges. Men with associations with many different religions and Christian denominations came into the jail.
There were also many men in Bear Creek who, for one reason or another, either despised or were simply uninterested in religion. As a chaplain, I was expected to help all these men regardless of their religions or interests, but our calling wasn’t to “Cram religion down their throats”. We would either have church services for the men who wanted them, or make it possible for religious leaders from other groups to visit or lead services in the jail. I also brought inmates into town for services in churches and at the Sikh temple. I was served some mighty fine tea at the temple.
Often when illness or death struck an inmate’s family I was called upon to escort the inmate either for a visit, or to the funeral. On one occasion I took a young First Nations fellow to his grandmother’s funeral, and I met the grandfather who was a pipe carrier. I would not have had the experience had I not been a chaplain.
I also escorted inmates to cultural events. On one such journey I took some First Nation fellows to the old residential school in Kamloops for a pipe ceremony. That day, one of the men said simply “I hate this place” as we walked through the old orchard. “I would sneak in here at night to steal apples. I was starving. They would beat us if they caught us out of the building”. I was often torn out of my comfort zone, and it was not always a pleasant feeling. However, I did learn to be understanding and respectful of those cultures and religions different than my own. Yes, there were times when I felt that I could tolerate very little more, such as those times when my own faith was attacked. The jail environment was similar to the broader society. Different cultures and religions were forced to live together just as societies are. That doesn’t always mean that they always get along peacefully in jails. Race riots do, and religious bigotry does, happen, but usually the men tolerate the differences.
hat doesn’t mean that they are one big happy family! Understanding and tolerating different religions and cultures takes effort, whether in Jail or out in society. Being uncompromising on doctrines and still respectful of differing viewpoints is a struggle, but struggle we must, if we are to exist well together. I do wish that all those men had been of one faith or persuasion, but the likelihood of that happening was pretty slim. I do wish that everyone agreed with my religious views, but the likelihood of that happening is also very slim. There must be a lesson in understanding and tolerance in this. Especially in the Mid-East.
I brought away a treasury of experiences and understanding from my career with Corrections, which continues to serve me. While I still have deeply seated opinions about religious matters, I look back and thank God that I had the experience of working as a chaplain with B.C. corrections.