Haven Chapel UMC Addressing the Pipeline to Prison Crisis

How one NTC church is working to break the cycle of incarceration

“Find the need and fill it. Find the hurt and heal it.”

This is the mantra that has inspired and challenged Rev. Dr. Ouida Lee throughout her ministry journey. When she was called upon to serve Haven Chapel UMC in Denison in 2022, Lee found a church ready to reach out to their community. When they did, they found great need and great hurt in what is often dubbed the “pipeline to prison.”

“I discovered that the first child I baptized as a student pastor in Sherman in the 1990s is now in prison, so that motivated me to see what we could do to get involved,” Lee said.

With funding assistance from the Northwest District of the NTC, a Peace With Justice grant and additional supporters, Lee and several of her congregants attended the National Prison Summit in Charlotte, N.C., and subsequently hosted a forum on the topic on March 19, at Haven Chapel UMC.

Ouida Lee and friends

Rev. Dr. Ouida Lee and Northwest District Superintendent Todd Harris (center picture) have found allies in (clockwise from upper left) Neal Spencer (prison ministry leader), Natasha Hayden (North Texas Youth Connection), Alan Brown (Probation Office of Grayson County) and Laura Ayers (House of Eli).

Collaboration partners included Laura Ayers of the House of Eli, Natasha Hayden of North Texas Youth Connection, Alan Brown from the Probation Office of Grayson County and Neal and Karen Spencer, who lead a prison ministry in the area. The United Methodist connection offered additional support through the involvement of Dr. Jeannine Hatt, Missions Leader of Waples United Methodist Church. An ecumenical partner, Rev. Dwight Thomas, Pastor of God’s House of Faith and Worship Center, was also instrumental in shaping the response to the crisis.

The group’s research has found that families are hungry for mentors for their children and are looking for support to build a foundation for their kids.

“The greatest impact we can have is at the children’s level to disrupt this cycle,” Lee emphasized. “We want to help parents and children know there is more than one way to deal with issues. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of hope. Hearing it over and over at Annual Conference in June I thought, 'Wow, this is exactly what we need to hear.' ”

That message of hope is turning to action as Haven Chapel prepares to identify and engage mentors, so that no more children fall into the pipeline to prison.

Published: Wednesday, June 28, 2023