by the Rev. Gerry Rickel

Community of St. Dysmas Lutheran Church is a unique congregation of the ELCA. It currently meets inside five different state prisons in Maryland, and all its members are incarcerated. With her permission, here’s a story from a St. Dysmas alumnae.

Let me start by telling you who I am. My name is Michele, I’m a mother of 3, a grandmother of 8, a loyal wife, a dedicated employee, and a great friend. I am also a recovering addict and an ex-offender.

Pr. Rickel and Michele

My battle with addiction led to some very dark places. I hit rock bottom hard. However, my getting arrested was actually a blessing in disguise. Spending time in prison gave me the opportunity to deal with events in my life that attributed to my addiction. And it is there that I met the wonderful volunteers of St. Dysmas.

I originally attended the Protestant service, but I found that most of the women there were not there for the right reason. It was more of a meeting place, and a lot of the women were loud, rude and simply disrespectful. It was then that I gave the Lutheran church a try, and there I found a small but loyal following of members.

The volunteers truly care about the women in Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW). They go above and beyond for their members. I have never before met such a wonderful group of people that dedicate their lives and time spreading the Word of God to imprisoned people.

With the help of St. Dysmas, I formed a strong spiritual relationship with my higher power. They assisted me in finding a place to go upon my release. They went out of their way to help me with clothing, cleaning supplies and all the things I would need to get a new start in life. I have been free for 15 months, and my life is very blessed.

Consider joining Pr. Rickel “inside”

I will never forget how the community of St. Dysmas helped me get re-established in the world. I am proud of who I am now and where I am now. The volunteers of St. Dysmas will always have a place in my heart.

When the Rev. Ed Nesselhuf was called in 1984 to start a Lutheran congregation in the MCIW in Jessup, Maryland, he had never set foot inside the walls of a prison. Now the ministry has grown to five sites with worship in Jessup, Sykesville and Hagerstown. Lutheran worship is conducted and helps its members begin new lives when they are released.

The St. Dysmas “inside church” has a vital relationship with “outside” churches like yours. Volunteer musicians are the greatest need. Running a close second would be rostered leaders who are willing to preach and preside. We’re also always open for involvement of folks interested in attending worship. Volunteers should be mindful that there can be a lengthy and involved approval process by Department of Corrections before participation is possible.

Deacon Paula Thistle and I can be invited to preach and lead adult forums. Contact us at psthistleaol.com or ric7277verizon.net for more information.

Our guest blogger has been pastor of The Community of St. Dysmas since 2011