I am sorry that I cannot be with you this evening; my hope was that I would be able to participate in this memorial for Les Horne and am grateful for the opportunity to write some words of reflection. It does seem somewhat fitting however that I will be spending my day at Warkworth institution, a federal prison just outside of Campbellford.
Warkworth is the prison that Charlie Taylor was released from in 1994 and the release of this individual into the community began the long connection with Les and those of us who are part of Circles of Support and Accountability. It also seems fitting that this memorial for Les is being held during national restorative justice week. At its core, restorative justice is about establishing and maintaining safe and healthy communities. It’s about how people relate to each other and the necessity for accountability, recognition, inclusion, safety and dialogue in a process of healing from harm. Restorative justice is about addressing the needs of all who have been impacted by crime: victims, the community and those who have offended. Les had a passion for justice, but not a justice that is based on the breaking of laws and the penalties that then followed, but a justice that focussed on the breaking of relationships, of addressing needs and a justice that enabled individuals to move into community in ways that allowed for the possibility of change and healing. The theme this year for restorative justice is “re-visioning justice”, a theme that was consistent in Les’ life.
In 1994, Les was one of a small group of individuals who covenanted together to walk along side Charlie Taylor. Long years of fighting his own personal demons as well as many years of a pattern of sexual offending against children, Charlie was being released to the community with no supports in place. Les Horne, Harry Nigh and a few other folks stepped up and said that they would welcome Charlie into the community, a seemingly very counter intuitive action for individuals who were committed to safety for children and vulnerable adults. Les’ relationship with Charlie, the building of an intentional community, a surrogate family for him, a circle of support and accountability, became a model of responding to men who have created immense harm and pain through sexual offending that is now being used across Canada, the United States and in many countries around the world. Les was a man who knew from his own work experience the kind of trauma and pain that sexual offending creates, however he also that there were other ways of addressing patterns of behaviour, as well as community fear and hostility that called for inclusion rather than exclusion and isolation. Les saw more than the label of sexual offender, he saw Charlie as an individual created in the image of God, a person of value and worth. Les was able to hold in tension a variety of seemingly distinct concepts: no more victims and no one is disposable, accountability and support, child of God and sexual offender.
Although a pioneer in the ministry of Circles of Support and Accountability, Les was not willing to sit back and relax. Les was an active member in other “circles” as well our Friday night fellowship group in Hamilton, Dismas fellowship. A community group named after the good thief on the cross, a community forged out of pain and brokenness but also a community of strength, healing and welcome.
When I think of Les, the words of the prophet Micah come to mind: What does the Lord require? To do what is just, be constant in love and walk in humble faithfulness with your God. Those words seem to sum up Les.
Les lived justice, a justice not based on simply locking people up, not based on longer, harder sentencing, but a justice that both acknowledged the pain of the crime as well as the needs of all who had been impacted-victims, communities and the offender. Les longed for and challenged us to work for a justice that leads to restoration, not simply more brokenness.
Les loved, he loved not in spite of people’s histories, but because of their histories of addictions and pain. He loved Charlie, Gary and others in our community with a love that simply would not let them go. Les loved with a love that always pointed beyond himself to the love of the God.
Les walked faithfully with his God, always grounding his work in the redemptive power of Christ to transform and heal. He was simply part of the process of bringing good news.
The legacy that Les has left us at circles of support and accountability is one that has been based on phone calls, cups of coffee, conversations, breakfasts, listening and prayer, celebration of small milestones and miracles and faithfulness during difficult times when addictive patterns of behaviours seemed to have the upper hand.
We miss Les, I miss Les. We miss him as we gather to sing together on a Friday evening; Jesus loves me, God on the mountain and Amazing Grace, all favourites of our community and of Les. But perhaps the one that i think of most when I think of Les is this”
We are companions on the journey,
Breaking Bread and sharing life;
And in the love we bear is the hope we share
for we believe in the love of our God,
No longer strangers to each other,
No longer strangers in God’s House;
We are fed and we are nourished
by the strength of those who care,
By the strength of those who care.
We have been gifted each other,
And we are called by the Word of the Lord:
To act with justice, to love tenderly
And to walk humbly with our God,
We are grateful for and have been very blessed by Les’ companionship as we have journeyed together.