How we got started
In 1996 the city of Fort Dodge began the bidding process for the second time to have a prison located in the Fort Dodge community. Local clergy were invited to participate on this committee along with contractors, city personnel and officials from several businesses and utility companies. Each of these groups submitted a "component" offering a description of their services should the prison be located in Fort Dodge. The clergy submitted a "Spiritual Component" to bidding. In this component the clergy proposed the formation of a prison congregation headed by an experienced parish pastor (to see a copy of this document, click on the underlined text above).
Fort Dodge was awarded the prison, so the clergy persons got to work and formed a steering committee. The work of Rev. Ed Nesselhuf of Prison Congregations of America was already known to some of the steering committee, so he was invited to act as consultant in the process of forming a prison congregation. The steering committee was intentionally composed of pastors and lay people from the ecumenical community of Fort Dodge and Rockwell City, hoping the Iowa Department of Corrections would allow a ministry at the North Central Correctional Facility as well.
The steering committee met and decided to contact the Bishop of the Western Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A meeting was held in the synod offices. Pastor Delwayne Hahn, liaison between the Western Iowa Synod and the ELCA Division for Outreach (the division responsible for mission starts) also joined us. Rev. Nesselhuf offered a possible scenario of how to begin the process. Pastor Hahn checked with the ELCA Division for Outreach, which was eager to start such congregations, the Bishop suggested other steps in the process. Committee members acted, proposals were drawn up and presented, approval of the Division for Outreach was received, and a call committee was formed. Several candidates were interviewed at the prison in Rockwell City during the spring of 1997. Pastor Carroll D. Lang was called as the Mission Developer Pastor.
The congregation needed a name. Fourteen names were suggested for the congregation. The committee narrowed the list to three or four and a vote was taken. The name, The Church of the Damascus Road: a community of reconciliation" was selected, with the awareness that when the congregation actually got organized it may be called by an entirely different name. It was decided that worship services would be held on Thursdays at the facility in Rockwell City and on Fridays at the Fort Dodge facility.
Pastor Lang officially began his ministry on August 1, 1997 at the facility in Rockwell City. On Thursday, August 28 the first worship service was held with 24 inmates a 12 guests attending. Later bible studies began on Tuesdays.
In April of 1998 the Fort Dodge facility began receiving inmates from the Classification Center in Oakdale, near Iowa City. 19 inmates were brought in the first week and immediately began asking when services would be held. Plans were to start worship services at the end of May, so Pastor Lang began having bible studies on Wednesdays and Fridays in the interim. Of those 19 inmates in Fort Dodge, one was released, leaving 18 possible to attend the bible study. 12 attended (66%)!

A high level of participation and responsibility
Holy Communion is celebrated every week at both institutions. Before the worship services the inmates set up the worship area with chairs and altar, and they fill communion cups, fold scripture folders and set out songbooks and hymnals. During the service members read the lessons, lead the psalm, offer the prayers, assist in the liturgy and help distribute communion. The singing is spirited and the visitors from the supporting congregations are welcomed warmly by the members of the congregation. After the service the members clean up the communion ware and put everything away. Then they fellowship with the visitors.