In 1984 the Rev. Ed Nesselhuf, with no experience in prison ministry, was called to be the developer pastor of the Community of St. Dysmas in Jessup, Maryland. St. Dysmas is a Lutheran congregation established in two Maryland state prisons and was the first denominational congregation in the nation where the members are all prison inmates. As he watched the inmate congregation develop and at the same time, an outside network of support develop in the Lutheran congregations of Maryland who chose to "partner" with the inside church, it became evident that he had stumbled onto a model of prison ministry with some unique strengths - especially enabling here-to-fore uninvolved Christians to "visit the imprisoned." Rev. Nesselhuf served the Community of St. Dysmas until 1987 when he returned to South Dakota, where he helped to establish St. Dysmas of South Dakota Lutheran congregation (Sioux Falls and Springfield, SD) and St. Dismas Episcopal congregation (Graterford, PA) founded in 1990 and 1991, respectively.
By then the dream was firmly planted in his heart. The dream was to do what seemed impossible – establish a denominationally organized congregation inside prison walls where inmate members welcome the strangers from the outside who join them for worship. Prison Congregations of America was organized in August of 1994, and Rev. Nesselhuf, known affectionately as Ed, made establishing prison congregations in the PCA model his life’s work. He retired in 2009 after having begun 14 congregations in 10 states, thus earning the title, Director Emeritus. What had begun as a dream, had become a movement.