The Perry family is a durable group of volunteers that brings the teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, to the San Quentin population.
Bishop Lynn Perry, his children, McKell and Lisa Strong, and his wife, Norma Perry, have all been volunteering in San Quentin for almost 20 years.
“I found that it’s some great men here,” said Perry. “I have seen them grow spiritually. My mother taught me ‘It doesn’t matter who you meet. They will be your superior, and you can learn from them.’”
The small group of parishioners celebrated the birth of Christ at their end-of-the-year annual gathering on Dec. 18 in chapel A. The service hosted more than 50 prison worshippers and eight volunteers.
April Rich played the keyboard and led the audience in singing “When Joseph went to Bethlehem” and “The Stars were Gleaming.” Rich vocals soared through the chapel with the range of an opera singer inside a cathedral.
Norma Perry read “The House Next Door to the Store,” a story she wrote about growing up in Utah and working in her father’s store. She painted a verbal picture of sounds and smells with a novelist’s skill as she narrated the tale of a family moving in next door.
The family was shunned for being different from most of the people in the community. That family fell on hard times and Perry’s father had her bring them food and gifts.
“That’s when I learned the true meaning of Christ being a servant to those who were down on their luck,” said Norma Perry. “That’s why we come here. We like to make a difference, to let the men know that they are loved by the Heavenly Father.”
Danny Puckett was close to tears as he shared his story of seeking Christ while in prison.
“I question myself, am I seeking Christ? Being in the church reminds me to do the work and fulfill His plan for me,” said Puckett. “While am here I’m spending time helping others.”
Chris Kurtz, the church state president, visited and gave a sermon on “Purpose.” He compared servants to the lower lights on the sea that help guide ships into land and God being the lighthouse.
“The purpose of tonight won’t be fulfilled if it doesn’t bring about change,” said Kurtz. “I hope we can live our life that others can feel our light. The light of prayer that can help save lives.
“Remember it was a light that signaled the birth of our savior,” added Kurtz. “If we just look at the cracks in people, we will never see the whole picture.”
Volunteers Ryan Viel and John Strickling provided inspiration prayers for the gathering.
“We all need to be open to what God tell us to do,” said Viel.
Strickling added, “We all are brothers; we all are on a journey in life. We want the brothers to know. This is not their end.”
Lisa Strong always accompanies her father for the weekly service, while McKell comes for the major events.
“It’s our intention to bring hope and let the men know they have value,” said Strong.
McKell added, “Whatever service you give God doubles, as long as it’s done with a good heart.”
Joseph Smith established the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints in 1830. The congregation believes Smith was a modern-era prophet called by God. The church has grown to a membership of more than 15 million people, living on six continents, according to the LDS website.