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Once Behind Bars, a Pastor Advocates for Giving Released Prisoners a Clean Slate

In 2005, Chancy was arrested for the final time, after an assault charge. However, his change from criminal to man of faith did not occur until April 2008. In those three years, Chancy continued to be involved in illegal activities without ever getting caught by law enforcement. But at 25, Chancy, fed up with his lifestyle outside of prison, tried to commit suicide by overdosing on drugs.

He survived, but he’d never be the same. “I had a night where it was like God was revealing to me, ‘You need to make a change in your life,’” Chancy recalled.

From the vantage of his present life, however, another night feels equally transformative. In 2000, nearly a decade before enrolling for his theology degree, he had a gun pointed at his head and was robbed. He recounts that he wanted to kill his assailant. He sought advice from a childhood friend, Brandon Bernard, who was on death row on two murder charges. Bernard told Chancy to let it go, to not end up like him.

Chancy did let it go, and for the last four years of Bernard’s life, before he was executed by lethal injection in 2020, Chancy was his minister. “That could have been me,” Chancy said.

Once he decided to change his direction, Chancy began studying different religions and rediscovered Jesus and the Bible, committing himself to read a chapter a day. The process helped him understand who he was, he said. He embraced the Seventh-day Adventist Church, his family’s denomination.

“I was making a conscious decision, and I fell in love with Jesus,” Chancy said. As he began to show up at church on a daily basis, people who knew him from his youth were excited that he was back. Slowly he earned their trust, and he began suggesting new initiatives to connect the church to the community.

The church became his new refuge. He stopped smoking, drinking and hanging out with bad influences. In 2012, after reading a book about being a pastor, Chancy realized that was his path.

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“Everything in the book was just exactly the questions I was asking, the things I was looking for,” he said. “This is what God was calling me to.”

After serving as associate pastor in Queens and the Bronx, Chancy was assigned to lead his Syracuse church in April 2022.

Along the way, Chancy repeatedly had to overcome his past. “Sometimes people see my record before they see me,” he said.

Another hurdle, Chancy said, was his relationship with women and sex, which had been formed by pornography and street life. “I had to relearn and reprogram what it really means to actually treat a woman with respect,” he said.

Today Chancy describes himself as very vocal. “Often, church people act like they’re holier than you. Like they never messed up,” he said. “I try to pull that out of them so we can all identify with one another.” This gives people hope, he affirms.

Kayla Skipper, a 29-year-old Mount Carmel Seventh-day Adventist Church member and screenwriter, confirms that Chancy made her feel comfortable sharing her own path after she had distanced herself from the church.

“There is an appreciation for people like Pastor Chancy who have a story to tell, who have walked away from God, who have been incarcerated, who had issues with drugs or whatever,” she says. “You feel like you’re not so alone in the struggles of life.”

The realistic approach to people’s lives serves his plans as a pastor, Skipper said: “He really wants to bring the church into the community.”

Chancy works with organizations aimed at helping youth and incarcerated people, inspiring change through his testimony. “I want to continue to open up the church so that it goes beyond the four walls,” he said. “If the people aren’t making a difference in the community, what’s the purpose of this building?”

As soon as he moved to Syracuse, Chancy reached out to Jail Ministry, an organization that gives individuals incarcerated in Onondaga County access to spiritual, emotional and personal support.