One of the most beautiful churches in upstate New York is the Church of St. Dismas, The Good Thief, in Dannemora. Built between 1939 and 1941, this Neogothic-inspired stone chapel boasts massive oak doors and an impressive spire.
The church stands on the grounds of Clinton Correctional Facility, a short distance from the prison’s outer walls. It was built painstakingly by prisoners under the direction of their chaplain, despite significant opposition and skepticism. Lacking building materials, the prisoners constructed the chapel from the rubble of several stone buildings, including one of the prison’s original cell blocks.
To me this is a beautiful picture of God’s work among prisoners. The life of a man or woman behind bars may appear to be in ruins, but to Jesus, the rubble of disappointment and despair is only the raw material for building His Church behind the walls.
In one of his letters, the apostle Peter, who was a hotheaded, poorly educated, unlikely leader for the early Church, writes, “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)
This is just as true for followers of Jesus who happen to be behind prison walls. Believers in prison may seem like unlikely candidates to be leaders of God’s people, but they, too, are “chosen by God and precious to him.” As they surrender their minds, hearts, and lives to Him, He is using them to restore lives and communities damaged by crime. To learn more about how Prison Fellowship helps to equip them for ministry, visit https://www.prisonfellowship.org/about/in-prison/.