TRAVERSE CITY — Every Sunday, Bernard “Bud” Thompson leaves his home in Suttons Bay and heads to the Pugsley Correctional Facility near Kingsley.
There he and seven others from the Traverse Area Keryx Prison Ministry meet with some 40 inmates to sing, pray and discuss their spiritual growth.
“It’s very spiritually uplifting and helps get us through the week,” he said.
Thompson is instrumental in bringing Keryx — a lay-led, non-denominational, nonprofit Christian based ministry — to the area.
“We’re all from different faith groups,” said Patrick Cline, who has been the local Keryx treasurer for the last seven years. “I’m Catholic, but we all go in under the crown of Jesus.
“There’s no proselytizing, no doctrine discussed, we talk about his love and guidance for us.”
Thompson, who has been ministering to inmates for 20 years, began his involvement in 1993 when he was asked to help develop the program for the Chippewa Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula. Thompson worked there for several years until he and a couple of friends began to wonder if they could continue their work closer to home.
“We wondered if we could develop a program at Camp Pugsley, but at the time it was too small,” he recalled.
It wasn’t long after that the Camp expanded from a relatively few inmates to a correctional facility housing close to 1,000.
“It also helped that Ray Moore, who became the chaplain at the new Pugsley prison, opened the door even further for us and the warden came from Kinross and he liked the program there,” said Thompson.
After discussions with the prison administration, Keryx came to Pugsley in 2002.
“We give regular talks to inspire the inmates who join us for a weekly ‘grouping,’” explained Thompson. “It offers inmates an opportunity to have some good, strong Christian fellowship.”
Twice a year, members of Keryx also spend a three-day weekend at the prison with the inmates.
“We sing, we laugh, we eat, we pray together — it’s been tried and true since the 1950s,” said Cline.
Over the years, Thompson said he has seen a change in most of the inmates who attend.
“They treat people differently, they look forward to work and a life outside prison,” he said.
One inmate had spent 28 years — most of his adult life — in prison when Thompson met him. “With the Keryx program, he’s a different guy now,” he said.
Cline has also seen a change in inmates.
“Through prayer, guidance of the Holy Spirit, we see how lives are changed by the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Keryx works from a decidedly strong Christian perspective of love for fellow man, but participants don’t need be Christian to attend.
“We’ve had atheists, skinheads, wiccans and others and all we ask when they attend is for them to have an open mind,” said Thompson, noting that his ministry is also his avocation.
“It’s the high point of my life,” he said. “God gives everybody a little talent to do — some things for ourselves and for our community and this is what I can do.”