The history of Living Stones Prison Congregation is the story of numerous dedicated individuals whose time, talents, and labors have helped nurture a meaningful and transformative worshiping community behind the bars of a state prison.
In the 1980s, Pastors Neil Thompson and John O’Neal began a regular presence at Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in the form of visitation, prayer, and worship. Their efforts helped prepare the ground - both inside the prison and within the Lutheran churches of Washington - for establishing a more permanent ministerial presence.
In 2006, Pastor Eric Wangen-Hoch was called to serve as the original mission developer of Living Stones. Using principles developed by Prison Congregations of America, Pastor Eric expanded the worship body to weekly gatherings involving incarcerated men, trained volunteers, and visitors from outside congregations. At the same time, he worked to engage outside congregations in efforts to ease the reentry process for men leaving prison.
Pastor Norm Arnold arrived in 2013 to carry on the work begun by his predecessors. Under his leadership, programs to assist formerly incarcerated individuals with housing and job training were investigated, and in 2015 Sandi Nolte was brought in as the Pastoral Ministries Assistant. Sandi’s husband, Pastor Chris Nolte, served faithfully as interim pastor following Pastor Norm’s departure in 2017.
Living Stones called its third regular minister, Pastor Chris Ode, in 2018. Pastor Chris has continued services at WCC, but has also begun developing a second site for Living Stones in one of the units at the Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC). This project strengthens Living Stones’ connection to churches across the rest of Western Washington and opens up several ecumenical partnerships - both for prison ministry and for reentry resources.
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3 million members in about 9,000 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands.," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.