St. Dysmas congregations a first for prisons

October 13, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

The candles burned brightly on the altar as the 15 Lutheran worshipers lowered their heads and prayed. After a unanimous amen, the men's heads straightened and they began to read the Bible and sing "Jesus, Remember Me."

"The theme for this evening kind of picks up from last week when Jesus announced to the world that he was the bread of life," the Rev. Charles Robert Frederick told the men. "When God fills us with his spirit, we have new purpose for our lives."

The Lutheran pastor's sermon and the chapel's decorations resembled many other churches. The congregants, however, are all prisoners.

This is the Community of St. Dysmas, a 90-member congregation named after the thief who was crucified along with Jesus and asked Jesus to "Remember me." The 9-year-old congregation was the first formally established Christian prison congregation in the country.

Services are held every Friday at the Maryland Correctional Institution (MCI) at Jessup, a men's medium-security prison, and every Saturday night in the dining hall of the nearby state's women's prison, the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women MCIW).

On this Friday night, Ronald L. Price, the Anne Arundel County high school teacher convicted this year of sexually abusing students, hands out sheets of papers describing the lesson of the day.

Bruce Parker, who began serving a three-year sentence in March for distribution of crack cocaine, also is among the worshipers.

L There are murderers, thieves and child molesters among them.

"What makes St. Dysmas different is the fact that we are an actual congregation, and that's key, vs. people coming in [to minister to prisoners]," Mr. Frederick said.

The St. Dysmas effort has been so successful that it became a model for two other St. Dysmas congregations in South Dakota

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