Prison Congregation Becomes First Independent CRC Behind Bars

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Cornerstone Christian Reformed Church, located inside the South Dakota State Penitentiary, took a big step in September when it became a full-fledged congregation with its own church council.

Eight years ago, Rev. Steve Moerman and his wife, Diane, began a church inside the penitentiary with a congregation of inmates who were excited to continue or begin a relationship with God. Classis Iakota, the regional group of churches, supported the ministry as an emerging church in the CRC.

On September 17, Classis Iakota unanimously voted to allow Cornerstone to become an “organized” church, one that has its own council rather than being under the care of a neighboring congregation.

Moerman noted that the church has both inmate officebearers as well as non-inmate. He said, “We hope to maintain two elders and one deacon who live outside of the prison.” These men, along with their inmate counterparts, will attend classis meetings with Moerman, and they will be members of Cornerstone as they serve their terms. “Those who are living on the outside are making a big commitment, as they will transfer their church memberships to Cornerstone Prison Church while they serve, Moerman explained.

This change will affect the church’s relationship with classis as well. The congregation will be weaning itself from direct classis financial support and develop other forms of financing its work.

Moerman said the move to organized status means the congregation has come of age. “It means that the outside church has entrusted the church behind the walls to stand on its own and handle its own affairs. It helps the men to see their place in the kingdom and gives a true sense of purpose, a true sense of ownership,” he said. “For those who often have little or no status in the world, this means a lot.”

See here for a recent video about this ministry.


About the Author

Kyle Hoogendoorn is a freelance news correspondent for The Banner. He lives in Rock Valley, Iowa.

See comments (4)


This is delightful.  I remember decades ago visiting inmates at this penitentiary in a program called M2M (man to man).  Later in life, I represented more than a few inmates in the Oregon penitentiary as their appointed lawyer.  In both cases, I got to know men and a few women (mostly men just because there were so few women in prison) who were people searching for answers in life, wanting something different than what their life had been.  What better place for a church.  And kudos to the state of South Dakota for letting this happen.  Not a small deal on their part.

On another subject, I would suggest there is a lot of creative projects that originate from the CRCNA churches in the heartland (Iowa/Minnesota/etc area), despite the fact that GR is more the focal center for spending denominational ministry share dollars.  The denominational folks working on "restructure" should take note.  Good things don't necessarily, perhaps even rarely, start from "the top" but rather from "the bottom."  I think the CRCNA is much more effectve -- as an institutional church even if not as a political lobby -- if it consciously perceives itself as a from-the-bottom-up body of Christ, in which the denominational structures perceive their task as serving rather than ruling over the local churches.

What exciting news!  It would be interesting to read more about the eight year process.  What a rich blessing to receive this new church and brothers in Christ into our denomination!

This is wonderful! Thank you for doing this great work giving value and dignity to those in prison. We need them in our lives! We drove through S.Dakota once and I loved it, no wonder, great state for allowing this.

Classis Iokota blessed us with this vote. The work that Pastor Steve and Diane does is so essential for these men. This church blesses us, their families, as well. God bless them and the Church. To God be the glory.