We don’t want those sentenced to perform community service becoming a public spectacle in the one of our churchyards which they help maintain. This is the reply St Nicolas’ District Church Council gave to the enquiry about the new Government scheme that those undertaking such work should wear high visibility vests labelled ‘Community Pay Back’.
The stated intention that justice should be visible seemed to us to tip over far too quickly into satisfying an appetite for public humiliation; appropriate punishment, community benefit and victim support are all vital, but loving our enemies and doing good to those who persecute us ought at least to make us stop short of making a public display of those involved.
But it is very difficult to think this way. My own instinctive reaction to petty nuisances, vandalism and violence when I am a victim or encounter someone who is, is to hunger for retribution and for something which will knock sense into the perpetrators. And the comments left on media sites which have reported the Government initiative indicates that those who dislike the idea of public humiliation in these circumstances are in a very small minority.
So I’m quite proud of the District Church Council for taking a Christian position which requires us to moderate the instincts of many of us and take a position which may seem quite weak and silly to most people in the community.
Repentance (I’m reminded on another blog) isn’t about feeling bad but about thinking differently; the Greek meta-noia is 'after-perception’ which is close to ‘beyond normal thinking’ and thus ‘adopting a different approach’. We pray for that in Advent for ourselves before we pray it for others including those undertaking community sentences.
Not that anything is going on at the moment. We've been really grateful for the work in the past, but those involved haven’t been able to come to us at all this year because of problems with machinery and transport. The picture is of how overgrown the churchyard got at times this summer as a result, despite dedicated work by a number of people. We will need to wait until next February to find out whether they’ll be able to come next year. And the local organiser tells me, whatever the media reports, that there are situations in which high visibility isn’t to be insisted upon and their present vests say ‘Unpaid Work’.