New Life Prison Community Church in Newton, Iowa, has applied to their classis (Central Plains) to move to organized status in 2020. Started as a church plant of the Christian Reformed Church in February 2011, New Life serves the inmates of Newton Prison and Release Center.
Two other prison church communities in the United States have successfully applied for and received organized status. Cornerstone Prison Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., was organized in 2013, and Celebration Fellowship in Ionia, Mich., was organized in 2016.
Banner archives: Brothers in Blue Leads to Baptisms in Iowa Prison (June 2016); Prison Congregation Becomes First Independent CRC Behind Bars (Oct. 2013); Training Leaders in Prison (March 2013)
Rick and Rose Admiraal, pastors of New Life, said the status update won’t change a lot in terms of how the church functions on a day-to-day basis, but it will change some things externally. For example, New Life’s external board of directors, which consists of volunteers from several churches in Classis Central Plains, will now become a council who will partner with the church’s existing inside council, made up of their prison congregants. Many of the outside mentors and volunteers who work with the prison congregants have decided to become Commission Members of New Life—making them no longer simply volunteers. A commission member continues to be a member of their original church and holds membership status in New Life as well.
“One of our volunteers is from Canada, originally. He has both Canadian and United States citizenship. He compares being a Commission Member to having dual citizenship,” Rick Admiraal explained.
Commission Members are the key to New Life’s success in their application for organized status. Currently, they have 24 and hope to have at least 30 in place by February 2020. Admiraal said that was the number set by their denomination as a minimum for success as it would provide a good core group that would have a high degree of sustainability.
“We’re hoping that each one of these newly commissioned members would have a new sense that this is their church, and that their home churches would share in that feeling. We hope each commission member will be publicly affirmed by their congregations,” Admiraal said.
Obtaining organized status also will help solidify New Life’s importance within their classis. Though they meet in a unique context with incarcerated men and volunteers, they are still a worshiping community.
Admiraal said, “One of our inside council members, Brad, described it this way. He said, ‘This would be validation for us.’ I think what he meant is it would confirm from the outside what we are already doing on the inside. That the greater church community would say, ‘What is happening there within the correctional facility is real. There’s authentic discipleship training. And they’re moving forward in their faith, and we believe in these guys, that they really can change their lives.’”
Pastor Doug De Groot, who serves Cornerstone Prison Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., affirms that for imprisoned parishioners, belonging to a recognized, organized church can make a real difference, both to their congregants’ families and upon their eventual release. De Groot has seen the church—thanks to the dedicated members of Classis Iakota—make a positive and consistent impact in the lives of its members. He's seen family members on the outside come to know Christ and seek out CRCNA churches or other churches with strong Reformed affiliation for a church home.
De Groot said, “Membership at Cornerstone helps (released members) find stability on the outside as they know that their membership at Cornerstone will be accepted and recognized at their new church home. It is fun to watch the men’s eyes light up as they look through the directory of churches, and see all of the possible church homes in the North American continent.