San Quentin’s Reformed Protestants are celebrating their third year as an official religious group after a humble beginning of studying together on a housing-unit’s tier during the Covid pandemic.
For members of this particular faith, their aim is to return to foundational Christian doctrines that they believe every Christian ought to be following. In the process, they seek to transform their lives from their past mistakes through practicing their faith.
“Just so that you know, this is the life preserver to a drowning man here,” said resident Stephen Fink, a new participant.
Historically, the Protestant Reformation movement started with the German monk Martin Luther, who famously nailed his 95 written theses to Wittenberg castle’s entrance. He was arguing for doctrinal reforms to the Roman Catholic faith.
This set in motion the “protestant” movement in Europe, which along with the death of many martyrs, eventually solidified into the first Protestant churches almost 100 years later.
How it all began in
The group of men met unofficially for almost an entire year on the fifth tier of South Block’s Alpine housing unit due to Covid restrictions.
Resident Jonathan Rodriguez and former resident David Argueta took leadership to bring the men together in congregation to study reformist works and practice their faith.
Reflecting on their humble beginnings, Rodriguez said, “I could have never imagined it would bloom into a full Reformed faith worship service.”
The congregation jumped at the opportunity to find a sponsor and submit the necessary paperwork to the prison’s administration to become an officially recognized religious group. Approval was granted on July 29, 2021.
“We thank God for having been granted the opportunity to meet officially for services,” Rodriguez said.
Their sponsor is Aldo Yannon, a military veteran and 15-year community volunteer at SQ. He faithfully conducts services and also teaches the two most common biblical languages — Greek and Hebrew.
“I’ve been waiting for something like this for fifteen years!” Yannon said.
At one of their recent services, all of the men thanked God for putting “Aldo at the right place at the perfect time.”
But the groundwork had to be laid first
First, Rodriguez had to put together a request form with a declaration of autonomy as a separate Protestant denominational church at SQ along with a copy of the “Three Forms of Unity” from the Protestant Reformed Churches of America.
This was approved by several men from the outside community of their denomination and then signed off by SQ’s Chaplain, Yat Ang.
What distinguishes these congregants?
According to Rodriguez, the focus of the Reformed Protestant faith is to defend the Gospel by holding on to the ancient creeds, confessions, and teachings — known as catechisms — from the original language of the King James Bible.
One of the pillars of the Reformation movement was French Theologian John Calvin, whose book, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” is highly influential.
Calvin emphasized five key doctrinal points, commonly known as the “Means of Grace.”
- “Salvation is by Grace Alone”
- “Salvation is through Jesus Christ Alone”
- “Salvation is by Faith Alone”
- “The only authority for faith and life are the Scriptures Alone”
- “And everything is all to the Glory of God Alone.”
The group continues to grow and welcomes others to come join and participate in their studies and worship.
However, many of the congregation’s members keep leaving because they are found suitable for parole and have now rejoined their families. One special member who was particularly inspirational, Kenneth “Musa” Bailey, has since gone “home to be with the Lord.”
“Now that we’re established at San Quentin, we want to create a model for other prisons to build on the Reformed faith, and [we will] continue to serve the men of San Quentin with a life changing foundation,” Rodriguez said.
For those wishing to join them, services are held:
Tuesday afternoons during out-count starting at 2:30 p.m. in the “library room” of Chapel B to study the Bible and the “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”
Saturday mornings from 9-12 p.m. in Chapel B for a full liturgical worship service comprised of singing Psalms, prayers, catechisms, and discussions.