FreeIndeed: A developing prison congregation

News | October 12, 2017

A new ministry is taking shape at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, a men’s state prison located in Anamosa, eastern Iowa.  FreeIndeed will serve the nearly 1,000 men who live there, using a model created by Prison Congregations in America, or PCA.

The congregation is a developing congregation in the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA. Its pastor, Jerry Collell, will present on Sunday during the learning hour, 10:45-11:30 a.m. in the Luther Loft.

“I feel like FreeIndeed…is what God has been shaping me for since high school in Redmond, Oregon, where parish ministry was first suggested by the pastor and other members of Zion Lutheran,” Jerry recently said. He served in the military, earned a master’s degree in special education and served as the director of a residential treatment center for teenagers. After earning his master’s of divinity degree, he served as a pastor. During his 15 years in Washington, he was deeply involved in prison ministry.

FreeIndeed is one of 31 prison congregations in 14 states connected with PCA, representing 9 denominations. Iowa has three other similar congregations.

The Church of the Damascus Road – Fort Dodge & Rockwell City, founded in 1997: This is an ELCA congregation serving in two men’s facilities in Iowa. Their program has expanded to include a vibrant reentry program.

Women at the Well – Mitchellville, founded in 2006: In the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, this is a vibrant congregation of the United Methodist Church led by Rev. Lee Schott.

New Life Prison Community – Newton, founded in 2011: This congregation is led by Pr. Rick and Rose Admiraal, under the auspices of the Christian Reformed Church.  New Life is busy with Bible study and prayer groups and monthly worship.

FreeIndeed is one congregation with two parts.

The inside congregation, is like any other church community, with communion, bible studies, and times for prayer and reflection. A leadership council helps make decisions about governance and ministry. The outside community is a network of ministerial and financial supporters.

“What we offer through the PCA Model of Prison Ministry is a chance to live and grow into our various seasons within the safety and security of a loving community, a congregation,” wrote Mary Mortenson of PCA. “Time and again I have seen people laugh and cry with one another and hold one another up.  I have heard the testimony of one who moved from the adolescent attitude of exclusion and judgment of another to the more mature acceptance and even regard.  I have seen the wonder on the face of one who dares to believe that he is loved and lovable.

“And here’s the real deal:  These examples are from people in relationship – some incarcerated and some not – all children of God trying to make their way in the world.  We say it often and it is true: PCA is ministry not to, but with, for regardless of what season we find ourselves, we are God’s good creation, and when we can’t believe that, we need to have those around us who will repeat the stories and the promise and who may simply say, ‘Breathe beautiful one, breathe.'”

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