The Friends of Dismas
Christmas Newsletter 2011

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Christmas DoveWelcome to our Christmas newsletter. We had planned an Advent message but time got away from us so we are just in time to call this our Christmas Greetings.

We wanted to take a moment to thank you for your continued support and prayers. This past year has been filled with hope and challenges. 

In this issue we encourage you to take a moment to read about the experiences of one man's story as he works to rebuild a life after 35 years inside. We would also like to share with you some stories from our retreats and Christmas programs.

All the best to you for a blessed Christmas and for a peace-filled New Year.


Rev. Harry Nigh, Shauna Mayer & Deacon Mike Walsh

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"Was I smart enough to have these thoughts?" by: Harry Nigh


Listening to grace-filled stories is one of the incredible benefits of my work. So far at least - thank God - it's not a taxable benefit!


Yesterday I played Santa Claus to Frank (not his real name), delivering presents given anonymously by one of you. He has been back in the community only 7 months after 35 years inside prison. He suffers from a disabling and terminal health condition but it doesn't limit his humility or gratitude.


Manger and CrossOver coffee at Tim Horton's he says, "I was a bad person", angry since childhood, labelled as stupid and slow by other kids in school. His family was nurturing, his mother a devoted member of the United Church, but he never fit in and started going to jail when he was 16.


Eventually he landed in solitary confinement in one of Canada's Special Handling Units and he found himself asking God to prove somehow that He could be trusted. Nothing happened.


Then he remembered something from his church days, something Jesus had said, "no one comes to the Father but through me", and he so started directing his questions to Jesus. Like Scrooge in Dickens' Christmas Carol, he was shown all the vile things he had done in his life, one by one. It was like a purification process.


When he asked Jesus questions, answers would fill his thoughts. He was not someone way up there, "Jesus was like a friend", Frank says, who over the next two years opened his heart.

"I became a better person", and when he knew he was about to rejoin the general population in prison, he asked Jesus, "How am I going to live out there as a better person?"


Jesus showed him, "just do unto others what you would have them do to you".


Frank couldn't believe it when people began to actually like him. And for a man who always felt stupid, he decided to start a college correspondence course.


"I wanted to find out if I was smart enough to have the thoughts I was having."


As we left the coffee shop, I almost felt like one of the shepherds backing away from the manger, awed by the mystery of this new birth in one of the most God-forsaken corners of Canada... but not forsaken at all... no place forsaken, ever. I marvelled again at a God who continues to be born in us, bringing peace, helping us become better persons.


Have a blessed Christmas!




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Retreats: A Chance to Share and Heal - By Shauna Mayer

Womans retrea

The first of our quarterly women's retreats was held at Willow Grove Mennonite Camp in Stouffville on October 22.  31 women attended and we shared a meal, offered creative art and time in nature.  Our retreat director was Mary Klien who led us in a time of reflection, listening and prayer.  It was a wonderful time of community building bringing together individuals from the 3 cities (Toronto, Hamilton, Brampton) where community chaplaincy for women is active. 

Our next day retreat is scheduled for Saturday February 4, 2012.  It will be held at Libenzell retreat centre, near Guelph, On. from 9:30-4:30pm.  The cost is $25.  


Volunteers are welcome to attend. Drivers are needed to bring women from the various areas and donations are gratefully accepted and if you would like to sponsor a woman to attend the retreat.  Please click here to contact Shauna Mayer, Community Chaplian, for more information.   


Fishing RetreatWe also held our first ever men's retreat this past spring and followed it with a day of fishing at a private lodge. In total 20+ men participated in the retreat and 10 of us had a great day fishing which was  followed by a BBQ and sharing time. This outdoor field trip was made possible when a new "Friend of Dismas" donated his property and time.


There are many creative ways for people of faith to get involved - so if you have an idea, would like to donate your time, talent or treasure to help us minister to those touched by crime, please send us an e-mail at:



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Sharing at Christmas By Mike Walsh


About 6 years ago a group got together and asked if it would be possible to provide Christmas dinner for families of women on parole. From this idea has sprung forth our annual Christmas basket program.  


Crossroads Christmas
Deacon Bill Radigan delivers Christmas Baskets at Crossroads

This year we received support from the following faith groups:

With the help of these faith communities and dozens of volunteers we were able to provide Christmas baskets to 50 women and their families and Christmas bags to 55 men in Toronto halfway houses.

This is an powerful example of the Ministry of Works in action. Thanks to all who made a difference in the Christmas celebrations of these men, women and their families.

our shopping spree at Wal-Mart, where a group of volunteers came together and bought the items for the Christmas Baskets. This project was made possible through the kind donations of the parishioners of St. Patrick's Parish in Markham.


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Christmas at the Dismas Fellowship


Christmas 2011 Cake

The primary objective of the Dismas Fellowship is to create a safe and welcoming place where ex-prisoners and friends can experience Christian community. Celebrating Christmas has always been a special time at the Fellowship and this year was no exception.  


The Toronto Dismas Fellowship community gathered on December 9th and hosted a record crowd.  


The set-up and decorating committee arrived early to make the room into a festive and welcoming venue for the feast. Our own talented chef, Brian prepared the fixings for a turkey & gravy dinner which was cooked by our faithful sister team.


Christmas 2011 Food
A Christmas Feast

Our Friends at Eglinton St. George's United Church, along with other volunteers provided more desserts than we could have hoped for and everyone went away from the buffet table full of good cheer.  


The evening had our usual singing of Christmas carols, the musical talents of our ensemble band  and our fractured nativity play. We could attempt to describe the pageant but honestly it defies description.   


A special thanks to St. John's York Mills Anglican Church for sponsoring the evening and to Eglinton St. George's United Church for the Christmas goodies.


It was a night of sharing, laughing and celebrating our fellowship with one another which is a big part of what Christmas is all about.


The Toronto Dismas Fellowship begins its 2012 meetings on Friday January 13th and all are welcome to attend.     


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Coming Attractions

Here are a few important activities you might like to know about:  


Volunteer Training in Toronto


This year we launch a new look to our volunteer training. There are three sessions with Session 'C' being for all volunteers. 


'A' Sessions: for new volunteers, focuses on an orientation to the justice system, and boundaries


'B' Sessions: for new volunteers, focuses on ministry, relationships, and listening skills

'C' sessions: continuing education for existing volunteers; topics TBA

The next dates are as follows:

'A" Session:   Saturday, February 11th: 9 am - 3 pm             

'B" Session:   Saturday, March 3rd: 9 am - 3 pm  

'C" Session:   Thursday, April 26th:  7 pm - 9 pm 


(Greater Toronto Area Location To be Determined)



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Woman's Retreat


1 Day Retreat:        Saturday, February 4, 2012.  

Location:                  Libenzell Retreat Centre, near Guelph, ON

Time:                         9:30-4:30pm   

Cost:                         $25/Person

More Information:  Click here to request more information.


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Toronto Dismas Fellowship


The Toronto Dismas fellowship will resume again on Friday, January 13th at Walmer Baptist Church. We meet on Friday evenings at Walmer Baptist Church starting at 5:30 pm. The complete schedule for 2012 is below.    


January       13 & 27  

February     10 &24    

March            9 &23 

April               6 (Good Friday) & 20 

May               4 & 18 

June              1 & 15 

July               13 

August         17 

September  14 & 28 

October       12 (Thanksgiving) & 26 

November     9 & 23 

December     7 (Christmas)


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Brampton Dismas Fellowship


We are excited to announce that early in the New Year we plan to have a Dismas Fellowship up and running in Brampton, Ontario. More details on this in our next newsletter.  


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Eglinton St. George's United Church Compassionate Justice  


Speaker :   Edward L. Greenspan


Date:         Sunday,  January 15th 

Time:        12:30pm      



Speaker :   Rosemary Redshaw


Date:        Monday,  January 16th 

Time:        7:30pm    



Location : Eglinton St. George's United Church 

               35 Lytton Boulevard, Toronto, Ontario, M4R 1L2   


Click Here for Series Poster 


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In closing we would like to again thank all who have supported the mission of the Friends of Dismas over these past 5 years. We will be publishing a 5 Year Review in the New Year to highlight how you have helped to build a community of hope.

The year 2012 promises to be a crossroads for the Friends of Dismas. We have some major decisions to make about the road we take moving forward.

We ask for your continued prayers as we undertake this discernment and as always, we are most grateful for your financial support that helps us in this ministry to those touched by crime.

Blessings for a wonderful Christmas and the Happiest of New Year's.

Your Friends at Dismas.


Donate Now
 Click on the link to donate online and enter Friends of Dismas and follow the instructions to make an online donation or mail a your gift to the address below:

Friends of Dismas

PO. Box 117

Markham, ON  L3P 3J5


Charitable Organization Number   83734 5560 RR0001 

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