More Congregations Behind Bars Want Prison Church’s Beautiful Study Guide

“The only things that mattered to us was that we wanted it to be beautiful. We wanted a wow factor. We wanted each of these guys to have their own personal copy,” Dave Koetje said of the art-filled, 52-week study guide Precious Lord Take My Hand. The book is a resource of Celebration Fellowship Church (CFC), a multi-site prison congregation of the Christian Reformed Church in Ionia, Mich. A 500-copy run was printed and distributed to Celebration Fellowship’s prisoner congregants in July 2016. Now the study guide’s creators are trying to make it available to more prison churches in the United States.

The development of this resource came from the ground up as Celebration Fellowship began formulating what eventually became this high-gloss, four-color, art-rich book from eight-question handouts designed to draw men into conversation as part of their weekly worship times held in the correctional facilities.

“CFC is a prison church . . . and [we’re] always having to function within the parameters that the department of corrections provides for us,” said Koetje, one of the book’s authors and a commissioned member of Celebration Fellowship. Commissioned members are volunteers belonging to another CRC (Koetje is a member of Eastern Ave. CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.), committed to participating and worshiping in one of the CFC’s three prison congregations. “We’re trying to bring beauty into a place that’s very uniform . . . it’s pretty plain, everybody dresses alike. The group conversations are very different than conversations these guys typically have throughout the rest of the week—as they describe to us, this is the time where they can make themselves vulnerable to fellow prisoners, the time where the conversation and language is very different—it’s around community, it’s around hurt, it’s around healing,” Koetje said.

Following the church calendar, Precious Lord Take My Hand guides participants through eight modules, including Advent and Lent, and also chapters called “Freedom from Addiction,” “Beyond Prison,” and “Caring for God’s People”—lessons on what it means to be part of Christ’s church.

“We wanted these guys to get a sense that if you’re part of a church, you’re part of this long history. You’re part of this story,” Koetje said.

Originally developed for Celebration Fellowship’s own congregations, the initial printing and the cost of licensing the art were covered by private donations. When there was an interest from other prison congregations, Koetje said they began to work on a model to get the costs down— the first run worked out to about $70 per book—and make another printing run possible, something they hope to roll out in early January.

Rev. Andrew Hanson is the second author of Precious Lord Take My Hand. He pastored CFC until moving to Hope Community CRC in Riverside, Calif., this past summer. Rev. Bob Arbogast was installed as pastor of Celebration Fellowship in separate services in the three facilities during the week of November 27.

Related past Banner features: The Church Behind Bars: 10 Years Later; Mission Behind Bars

About the Author

Alissa Vernon is a news editor at The Banner.

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