Faith leaders grapple with big questions about crime, restorative justice and the role of congregations

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Friday - June 27, 2014.

How do crime and the criminal justice system impact victims, offenders, their families and the whole community?

How do shame and stigma prevent us from talking about and addressing the resulting harms?

Are we afraid of those in prison or who have been in prison? What are we afraid of and why?

How do we, as a community, move beyond shame and fear to create a culture of safety and support, and to offer restoration and healing to all those who need it?

These were a few of the challenging questions a group of faith leaders from around Lancaster County grappled with at a recent Healing Communities training in Lancaster . . . 

Healing Communities was developed at the national level by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in partnership with faith leaders from across the theological spectrum, to engage congregations in the restoration and healing of their own members who have been impacted by crime and the criminal justice system.

The Lancaster County RMO has been offering Healing Communities trainings since early 2012 and has trained more than 30 congregational teams from a wide range of denominations, including Baptist, Lutheran, Church of the Brethren, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Friends Meeting, United Methodist, Episcopal, Mennonite, Unitarian Universalist, Brethren in Christ, Church of God in Christ, Roman Catholic, AME Zion, Christian Fellowship, and others. What all of them have in common is a call to reach out with compassion and love to persons who are hurting.

The day of Healing Communities training culminated with participants gathering in their "congregational teams" to craft a plan for sharing what they had learned with others in their congregation and putting what they had learned into practical action.

Congregations are urged to send a team of at least three people to the Healing Communities training, to enhance the effectiveness and depth of both the learning and the action planning that is central to the training.

Healing Communities training covers:

• Essential information and perspectives on the criminal justice system, current issues, and the impact of crime on victims, survivors, offenders and families

• Relevant questions for reflection and discussion within congregations

• Ideas and resources for pastors and faith leaders to engage congregants

• Tools, information and resources for congregation members

• Resources and dedicated time to develop a customized congregational action plan suited to the culture, demographics and core beliefs of YOUR congregation


We will be offering additional Healing Communities trainings in Autumn, 2014.

QUESTIONS? Contact Melanie G. Snyder, RMO Executive Director:
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Phone: 717-723-1075



About the Author

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder serves as the Executive Director of the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO). She was a featured TEDx speaker at the first-ever TEDx event in Lancaster. 

She is an NIC-certified Offender Workforce Development Specialist, a certified Global Career Development Facilitator, and a certified instructor for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Healing Communities model. She is also a trained restorative justice mediator.

Prior to Melanie's involvement with the RMO, she spent several years researching and writing the book Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity (Brethren Press, 2009), which tells the true story of a woman who volunteered in Pennsylvania's state prisons for over 30 years, creating inmate education and reentry programs based on principles of restorative justice. After Grace Goes to Prison was published, Melanie traveled throughout the United States, doing speaking engagements and meeting with other reentry and restorative justice professionals to discuss criminal justice issues and exchange information and ideas.