Circles of support and accountability


CoSA Canada

No More Victims – No One is Disposable

CoSA Canada is the Canadian national organization for Circles of Support and Accountability, a Canadian-made restorative justice program for individuals who have committed serious sexual offences. CoSA allows the community to play a direct role in the restoration, reintegration, and risk management of people who are often seen with only fear and anger.

CoSA works to combat social isolation; a major factor in sexual offending.

Social isolation and lack of positive relationships are two of the most significant factors in sexual offending.

CoSA began in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1994, with the release of Charles Taylor. He had committed over 20 sexual offences and was nearing the end of his fourth sentence. He was also low-functioning, had been chronically abused, and spent most of his adult life in jail.

“Charlie,” and others like him, have always been hard to deal with. To ensure our safety, they are usually kept in prison to the end of their sentences and don’t receive parole. The result is that they are often released without any supports or effective monitoring.

CoSA fills this gap by providing trained volunteers to act as friends. They provide the supports to help ex-offenders succeed, hold them accountable for their behaviours, and work closely with police and mental health professionals to raise the alarm if necessary.

Many peer-reviewed studies have been done on CoSA, all showing the same outcome: dramatically lower rates of reoffending.

What does a circle look like?

A “Circle” involves a group of three to five screened, trained volunteers who commit themselves to support and hold accountable the ‘Core Member’ who is typically assessed as being a high risk to re-offend. Because he has been held to the end of his sentence, he is returning to the community with little or no support available to him and often with much media attention.

The Circle meets together regularly and is guided by a written and signed agreement called a Covenant which outlines the responsibilities and expectations of the Core Member and his Volunteers and includes the ‘promise’ of confidentiality as well as the limits of confidentiality. The Volunteers provide assistance with re-entry challenges (housing, employment, medical needs, etc). The Core Member commits to open communication with the group regarding his identified risk factors and triggers, problematic behaviour, attitudes, etc., all in an effort to end his pattern of sexual offending and to increase public safety.

Volunteer members come from all walks of life, ranging in age from 21 and up. They are professionally supported by CoSA staff, Board of Directors and advisors and work in conjunction with community agencies and treatment providers like psychologists, parole or probation officers, the police, and courts.

Overall, the goals of the Circle are to:

•Support the Core Member’s community reintegration by facilitating his practical needs (i.e. access to medical services, social assistance/financial means, seeking employment/affordable housing, etc.) and by providing a consistent network of emotional support;

•Develop constructive and pro-social strategies and solutions to everyday problems and concerns as well as celebrate successes, and

•Challenge the Core Member’s behaviours and attitudes that may be associated with his offending cycle.

brother Glendon


In 1981 James Fowler, a Christian theologian, published a groundbreaking book on the subject of human spiritual growth. The book is entitled Stages of Faith: the Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Fowler suggests seven stages of faith, starting with that of the newborn and ending with that of the fully spiritually developed adult, someone who sees God in everyone and everything (a place very few ever reach).

“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.” ― Jean Vanier

Mark 3:31-35

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In my 29 years of ordained ministry the highest compliment any church volunteer could receive was “s/he is a real doer!” But while what we offer to one another, what we offer to God, is of utmost importance, what is often missed is the why and the whom. Why are you doing what you are doing and for whom are you doing it? Despite the rather insecure suspicion that some may be doing things for “show” my experience is that is almost never the case. Rather, the concern I raise is less about that level of insecurity and more about reciprocity. Jesus repeatedly warns us (Luke 14) that doing for others because they do for us is not deep love, it is a kind of “tit for tat”, trying to do for those who do for us. Jesus called us to do for those who can’t return the favor, he says when we do that we are in essence doing things for Jesus (this is repeated many times in the Gospel).

Many of you know Glen the volunteer; looking after the sound (he could use an assistant…), Chair of the Board of Managers, the point person in the office who first engages our renters, the person you are likely to see as you walk in the door at 10 am and if you return later find him still here at 5 pm. Glen is relentless. And he manages to maintain a smile, a warmth, no matter what. Glen “is a real doer”.

But that is NOT why I admire Glen so much. Glen has a universal feeling about the other, he sees the face of God in everyone he meets. We have renters who attend Bethany because Glen treated them like family the first time he met them. We have groups who use the church who belong to different religions, Glen is always keen to learn more about them. And when people present themselves as unique, offering to be part of our community, Glen finds a way they can contribute and affirms them as they do so. At lunch time Glen shepherds those he can find around the building and puts them in his Honda Civic Odyssey (he and Carol call it “Homer”) and heads off for lunch. And if you really want to see Glen smile ask him about the Strum group that practice their guitar skills (he loves newcomers).

Glen works hard at the church and he does so without fanfare or need for praise. His salary of $0 will need to be adjusted for inflation.

If you are reading this and asking “why isn’t Kevin mentioning what others do, what I do” you may need to go back and read the first three paragraphs. It is not about you, me or Glen. It is about the Jesus we find in the other, and when we find people who offer this welcome, this affirmation, this openness to the Other we need to celebrate it. I learn from Glen’s witness each and every day (although he prefers more details than I do).

Two final things. 1) One day Glen asked Hedley where his mom was buried. Hedley explained that while he knew the name of the place he did not know where it was, Hedley had no way of ever getting there. Glen did his research. So on Friday Glen drove Hedley and his sister Julia out to see their mother’s grave. And Glen went a step further, he brought a brush and some soapy water to clean the headstone, it has been there for five years. I watched as Glen did this work of love as Hedley and Julia reminisced about their dear mom. After I took this photo of the three of them, this holy family of faith, we held hands and offered a prayer of gratitude. 2) Today, Saturday August 24th is Glen’s 70th birthday. As a member of Glen’s family please offer a prayer of thanksgiving for his ministry with and to us.

I know I have left something out or made some mistake. My aim here is not perfection, mine in writing this or Glen as a disciple, but rather to lift up someone who sees the universal love of God in the other, not just his own kin, his own friends, his own church or people who think like him. Glen sees the love of God in the other and we see the love of God in Glen. That is enough. And I am grateful for that. Amen.



The Gift of Failure

Letting our children struggle is a difficult gift to give.

By Steve Baskin for Psychology Today

When talking with the parents of our summer campers, I often talk about the many ways that children grow at camp; discovering themselves while away from their parents' shadows. I love the chance for campers to challenge themselves and feel the excitement of triumph. I also love watching them learn to cope with disappointment and even failure, because this will teach them to deal with adversity later in life.

During one such conversation with one of my favorite camp moms, she shared this story.

Her son had decided to clean his room (a shock in and of itself) and he had come to his trophies and ribbons. His mom arrived to see that he had created two piles: one large and one small.

"What are the different piles?"

Pointing to the small pile, he said, "those are the awards from the tournaments and meets that I won." He then dismissively pointed at the larger pile, "those are the ones I got just for showing up. I am throwing them away."

When she shared this with me, I pictured all the well-meaning organizers and coaches who had arranged unearned awards for his entire life in an effort to give him greater self-esteem. Clearly, it did not fool him.

The self-esteem movement has done an entire generation a deep disservice. It started with the best intentions. In 1969, Nathaniel Brandon wrote a paper entitled "The Psychology of Self-Esteem" that suggested that "feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life". Hearing this, many people started to find ways to confer confidence upon our children. This resulted in competitions where everyone gets a trophy and no one actually wins. "New games" attempted to engage children without any winners or losers.

The parents who embraced these efforts did so out of love and with the most noble of intentions. The only problem is that these efforts simply do not work. Self-esteem is not something conferred, it is earned through taking risks and developing skills. When children stretch themselves, they expand their sense of their own capability and then feel confident to tackle the next challenge. Confidence comes from competence - we do not bestow it as a gift.

Relatedly, we also spend too much time protecting our children from any pain or adversity. We hate to see them struggle and we suffer when they suffer. But the same loving envelope that protects them from pain also protects them from growth.


In her book Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Dr Wendy Mogel suggests that children insulated from unpleasant situations or challenges become less capable to deal with adversity. She notes that college deans are seeing a growth in incoming "teacups": students so overprotected by their parents that there are effectively incapable of functioning in the new (and parentless) world of higher education. They encounter adversity and "chip like a teacup".

Harvard Psychiatrist Dr. Dan Kindlon writes in Too Much of a Good Thing that parents often focus on making sure their children avoid pain and disappointment. As a result, they often fight their children's battles for them and insulate them from difficult experiences. In his private practice, he observes that these children feel less capable and are more likely to struggle in relationships and with challenges. They also can feel guilty when they are not feeling happy.

By protecting our children, we do them a double disservice. First, we insulate them from experiences that can facilitate growth and resilience. Second, by actively protecting them, we send them the message that they are not capable of coping on their own.

I think much of this problem comes from the having the wrong goal of parenting. If we see ourselves primarily as protectors and facilitators, we see challenges as potential sources of discomfort.

Instead, we should see ourselves as preparing our children to be independent, confident and capable. We should protect less and instead seek out experiences that will develop their resilience and optimism. Here, I define optimism as the belief that an individual's actions can affect his or her circumstances and that difficult situations are temporary.

We must prepare our children for a world that is often unpredictable and even inhospitable - that is the gift of resilience.

We must also provide them with a philosophical framework that enables them to understand that even if everything is not ideal, life is still worth embracing with joy and excitement - that is the gift of optimism.

In order to do this, we need to allow them to struggle and strive without us. We must also allow them to occasionally fail. It is not fun, but it could be the greatest gift we provide them.

To quote Dr Mogel one final time, it is our job to prepare our children for the road, not prepare the road for our children.



Top 7 Bible Verses About Welcoming Other People

By Grace Robinson

Our God is a welcoming God. God welcomes anyone and everyone. While He lived on earth, Jesus always welcomed anyone into his presence or to wherever he was preaching at the time. With Jesus as our example, we should never be shy about welcoming others. Whether it’s welcoming friends into our home, visitors into our church, or just saying hello to a stranger on the street, as Christians we should display the welcoming attitude of God.

To help you study this welcoming attitude of God, here are seven Bible verses to get you started:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

This verse epitomizes God’s welcoming attitude. This reminder was written to the early church. It went against their culture to welcome people different from themselves (Greeks, slaves, etc.) – just like in today’s world, there are some people we might find it hard to welcome based on our cultural expectations. But if someone is a believer in Christ, they are the same as we are, and should be welcomed.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Matthew 5:46-48

This verse is about welcoming everyone, not just fellow Christians. This does not contradict the previous example, though – if anything, it takes the welcoming concept to the next logical step. It’s easy to welcome those like us (other Christians), but what about those who are so different that they’re not even believers? Welcoming those who have nothing in common with us should be one of the distinguishing marks of Christians.

“When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.” Luke 9:11

If we’re to follow Jesus’ example, then we should be as welcoming as He is here. Not only did He treat the crowds with kindness by welcoming them, He did something for them – He told them about the Kingdom and He healed them. Being welcoming is more than just saying hello – it’s finding ways to bless people.

“When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.” Acts 15:4

Here is another good illustration of Christians welcoming other Christians. In this case, “they” are Paul, Barnabas, and others traveling to Jerusalem on a mission for the newly-birthed church. This passage reminds us to be not just welcoming in general, but to welcome and serve workers in the church. Whether it’s a missionary, an elder, or the groundskeeper, anyone who works for the church should always be welcomed by other church workers and fellow believers.

“And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.” 1 Samuel 25:6

Peace – this is one of the simplest, easiest ways to ensure that you always have a welcoming attitude. Focus on peace – in your heart, your home, and in the words you say – and everyone around you will feel welcome

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7

If any verse serves as a blatant reminder about Jesus’ welcoming nature, this one is it.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Matthew 25:35-36

This is probably one of the most well-known verses about welcoming others. It speaks specifically to those who might initially be hard to welcome – the poor, the sick, or anyone who we consider “different.” But our kindness is not only a reflection on Christianity as a whole, but it’s a direct reflection on how we think about Jesus.


There are many more verses about welcoming other people – after all, the entire Bible is the story of how God has welcomed all of humanity. So the next time you find yourself wanting to exclude others for a selfish reason – or wanting to reach out but not sure how to do it – start with these seven verses. Now go make someone feel welcome today!

Article by Grace Robinson



Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die

By Nathan Millican


Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Farrar, in his book Finishing Strong, tells us that…

•Bitterness grieves the Spirit of God.

•Bitterness poisons your soul.

•Bitterness is slowing your grace and letting the jealousy gain ground on you.

What is bitterness? Bitterness is also understood to be resentment (also called ranklement or bitterness). It is the experience of a negative emotion (anger or hatred, for instance) felt as a result of a real or imagined wrong done.

Bottom-line, bitterness will never honor the Lord. It will never advance you in your relationship with the Lord. It will never cultivate a love for God, nor for your neighbor. Believe me, bitterness can be a sin that will consume you and spread to every facet of who you are.

Look to Jesus, who despite being betrayed, persecuted, hated and left to die a sinner’s death alone did not respond with insults or scorn but entrusted Himself to the Father who judges all things justly (1 Peter 3:21-23).

What not to say to a parent of a child with a disability


What not to say to a parent of a child with a disability

Bringing God into it is not ideal

By Julie M. Green for Broadview Magazine

When I tell people my child has autism, they often fall silent. Then they tend to respond with reassurances or, worse, con­dolences. I realize their intentions are good; people are generally caring and concerned. But the fact is, no one has died.

Yes, we have experienced our share of struggles and, at times, even something approximating grief. But I wish people would save their sympathy for funerals. I also wish they wouldn’t bring God into it.

In the seven years since my son was diagnosed, I have heard countless clichés and explanations, including “God only gives you what you can handle” and “God has a plan for you.” None of us can speak with any authority about God’s master plan because no one knows.

Let’s be clear: there’s nothing “special” about parenting a child with special needs. It is not a superpower that comes with a flashy red cape or a magic belt. If it’s a special mission or a div­ine assignment, God has not told me.

Sure, having a child with special needs means I have more responsibilities — extra appointments to go to, extra forms to fill in. But otherwise, my family looks much the same as anyone else’s. There are meals to cook, piles of toys and clothes to clean up, homework to help with. Like all parents, I love my kid hard and worry about him even harder. I’m also tired — okay, very tired — yet hopeful. Treating me like a “warrior” or “chosen one” is misguided.

Instead, see me for who I am: a mom doing the best she can. Open your mind. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Buy me a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine). Make me laugh. Take the dog for a walk. If you’re so inclined, pray for my family. Your prayers are the spiritual equivalent of warm thoughts and positive vibes, which I welcome.

And if you feel the need to say something helpful, say: “I’m here. You’re not alone.” Then find ways to prove it. I’m not religious, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would have done.

Julie M. Green is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Toronto.

Celebrities are not our real friends


You're Not Really Friends With That Internet Celebrity

Why you feel an illusion of closeness to your favorite online personality

By Jennifer Golbeck Ph.D. for Psychology Today

What happens when fans forget their relationships with celebrities aren't real?

This week has brought us the strange case of Marina Joyce, a 19-year-old YouTube vlogger from the UK. She posts fashion and makeup videos and is wildly popular. Her channel has well over 1 million subscribers and her videos rack up millions of views.

Her latest video, posted below, caused an uproar among her legions of fans. They felt her behavior was so odd that something must be wrong. The local police were flooded with calls of concern, reporting everything from "Marina was kidnapped by ISIS" to "She is being held hostage and forced to post." The police have checked on her and confirmed she is fine, she has said she is fine, as have her real friends, yet online fans and conspiracy theorists continue to scour her videos for "clues" as to "what's really going on." All the strange details are laid out here by the Washington Post.

Why do fans feel so close to people they don't know and have never met?

Before we get into the psychology, let's just look at it on a casual level. These celebrities are generally posting as themselves (or at least a characterized version of themselves). They share personal thoughts and what sometimes feel like intimate details of their lives. The presentation is casual and often appears very authentic. It is, in essence, how we would expect a (very polished) friend might share something with us in a video. Furthermore, the celebrities often interact with fans through the comment sections or through likes, shares, retweets, and favorites. These lightweight interactions may feel like a true personal interaction with the celebrity.

However, these are not relationships at all. Rather, they are the illusion of a relationship supported by the broadcast medium. Why do they feel so real?

Granovetter's theory of Tie Strength describes the closeness of our relationships. A relationship has four factors that affect its closeness:

•Intimacy, or sharing secrets and personal information

•Emotional intensity

•Time, which includes how long we have known someone, how often we interact, and the duration of our interactions

•Doing favors for one another, more formally called "reciprocal services"

It can feel like online celebrities are sharing intimate information with fans. Fans may have strong emotional reactions to what is shared. Fans may spend a lot of time watching, reading, and consuming content from the celebrity. And the fans may even feel like a celebrity's post is something offered to them by the celebrity (a favor, in essence). It ticks off many of the same boxes that we look for in real relationship closeness.

The problem is that these interactions only go one way. Even when celebrities interact with fans, it is a surface interaction on a one-to-one level. There are simply too many fans for a celebrity to build true relationships with more than just a few of them. The intimacy, emotional intensity, time invested in the relationship, and favors are not one-to-one interactions at all. Thus, while a fan may feel like the celebrity is being truly close with them, the one way nature of the interaction means there really is no relationship.

This illusion of relationship with celebrities is called "parasocial interaction," an idea first presented in the 1950s. While it has been studied most in the context of TV and movie stars, sports celebrities, and even fictional characters, it is very much present online. The lightweight interaction of the internet can encourage this illusion, as can the feeling of authenticity around the celebrities' online characters.

Even though the relationship is an illusion, the feelings a fan has around it are real. There are true feelings of affection and attachment to the celebrity, and when the celebrity does something a fan does not like or that breaks the illusion of the relationship, the fan can suffer real feelings of loss and betrayal.

There is nothing wrong with being a dedicated fan of any celebrity, but the internet functions in a way that can encourage a fantasy of closeness and feelings of being in a relationship that does not actually exist. It is important to separate the fiction from reality, especially when it leads to real action. In the case of Marina Joyce, she is currently hiding in her own home, locked away from the media that is parked outside, and in constant communication with police who continue to receive calls from worried fans who think they are her friend. Fans have damaged her real life in pursuit of the fake relationship they have built up in their minds.

The magic & mystery of Love


The Magic and Mystery of Intimacy

By Fr. Richard Rohr

The Great Mystery unfolds even further. It seems that Israel’s God, YHWH, who is uncovering and exposing the Divine Self in the Bible, soon desires not just images or holy writings, but even persons with whom God can be in very concrete and intimate relationship—quite literally friends, partners, and companions. Jesus then became the representation of one walking on this earth who fully accepted and lived out of that divine friendship. In fact, he never seemed to doubt it. That must be at the core of our imitation of Jesus, and exactly how we become “partners in his great triumph” (2 Corinthians 2:14). Such healed people will naturally heal others, just by being “healed” from the great lie of separation.

God will not settle for mandated or fear-based contracts with servants, but rather desires willing and free relationships with “friends” (John 15:15). This is called a “new covenant” in both the Old and New Testaments (Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20). Even today it still feels new, presumptuous, and unbelievable to most people.

In calling forth such freedom, consciousness, and love, God is actually empowering a certain kind of equality and dignity between God and humanity, as strange and impossible as that might sound. Yet love is only possible if there is some degree of likeness and equality between two parties. Jesus became that likeness, equality, and dignity, so we could begin to imagine it as possible for ourselves too.

One way to read the entire Bible is to note the gradual unveiling of our faces (2 Corinthians 3:18)—the gradual creating of personhood, from infants, to teenage love, to infatuation, to adult intimacy, to mature and peaceful union. We are tempted to avoid the deeper risk of intimacy every step of the way. But biblical spirituality has the potential of creating “persons” who can both receive and give out of love, a love that is always both risky and free. The English word “person” is related to the Latin per-sonare, or “sounding through.” The word may also be borrowed from the Etruscan word for mask. The deepest understanding of human personhood is that we are a sounding through from Another Source. If you are afraid of intimate interface, you will never allow this or know its softening power. You will stop the process before it even begins and never know how it works its transformation on the heart, mind, and body. If human eyes are too threatening for you, start with a stone, work up to plants and trees, animals will be easier, and probably only then are you ready for humans, and finally for the divine gaze.

I must be honest, however, and tell you that there are some people who start with the divine gaze and move down the “Great Chain of Being” to swallows, sunflowers, and stones. But in either case, the great chain that connects us all is always and only love. Connecting more and more of the links of the chain is the supreme work of all true spirituality. A single link is never the full chain.

“The physical structure of the universe is love.” —Teilhard de Chardin

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