One Parish One Prisoner
It started when learned there are roughly the same amount of prisoners in Washington State as there are churches.
What if—instead of starting a handful of expensive agencies in a few cities—we helped churches in every county, every city, build direct relationship and come around just one person leaving prison?
Not only does a gathered community of love have everything a person needs coming home from prison. Just as importantly, it would change every church. It could be a movement of mutual transformation.
A way to practice, and experience, the resurrection we proclaim.
We are just getting started.
Underground Ministries is facilitating a pilot partnership with the WA Department of Correction (DOC), the Seattle Archdiocese, the Northwest United Methodist Church Conference, and the Northwest Coast Presbytery, to experiment with helping church communities build relationships with incarcerated individuals releasing to their communities.
This is a unique opportunity for spiritual formation and engaged discipleship with your congregation. Christ calls us to visit Him, to know Him, in relationship with the imprisoned (Matthew 25).
We can help your congregation go beyond metaphor, where this Word becomes flesh, a man or woman with a name and a story, behind bars. Jesus challenges a community to roll away Lazarus’ tomb stone, help take off the grave clothes, and embrace someone rising from the underground—so that they will see the glory of God (John 11).
What better way in our age to ignite your congregation into experiencing (not just hearing sermons about) the central mysteries of redemption, forgiveness, inclusion, service, and tearing down the wall that divides (Ephesians 2)?
It’s been said that the church loses people not by asking too much of them, but by asking too little of our lives.
We find that as men and women in churches exchange letters with someone in a prison cell, drive to a facility for a visit, grow to care and laugh and know their children, and even meet some conflict or heartbreak, our own hidden issues, our own baggage comes to the surface. The very “underground” realms in us that God wants to heal.
In this way, we let go of old ideas of “saving” anyone, and find the freedom of simply savoring a new friend that our legal system treated as disposable. We experience more of God’s kindness that leads us all to fresh repentance (Romans 2).
We want to help churches like yours walk through this unforgettable process together.
Here’s how it works for interested churches in WA State:
Contact Joe Cotton (firstname.lastname@example.org) with expression of your congregation’s interest.
Underground Ministries’ founder Chris Hoke, along with formerly incarcerated allies, will come and speak or preach to your church about this relational work of transformation.
While awaiting a OneParishOnePrisoner opportunity (someone in prison applying with us, releasing to your area in roughly one year) your church can begin learning together through Underground Ministries’ guidance and resources: Underground Coffee for your church, reading WANTED and other books, watching documentaries, and more.
As vision grows in your congregation, we ask your church leadership to select its OPOP Team: at least five congregants, including the pastor. This OPOP Team will be the ones writing letters, making visits, and meeting monthly to serve the prisoner, or Returning Friend. We think of the five people like the five fingers of a hand that reaches out—and eventually pulls a new friend into a larger embrace within the body of the church.
When we have an applying and accepted prisoner returning to your county, your OPOP Team will begin the OneParishOnePrisoner Orientation series. This year’s Kickoff Orientation is November 23, followed by a year of online practical and theological workshops to support your OPOP Team’s writing letters, then visits—all to build authentic relationship with someone coming home to your community within a year or more. Our Orientations will equip your OPOP Team to build supportive re-entry plans with your person, partner with local resources in your area, and warmly involve the larger congregation in the love.
A New Underground Railroad
In America, roughly 700,000 men and women are released from prison into our communities every year. But without access to new relationships and opportunities, with many barriers to “reentry,” most remain in the “underground” street economy. They eventually get arrested, and sucked back into the prison system, disenfranchised and dead to society.
Michelle Alexander, in her groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow: Colorblindness In An Age of Mass Incarceration, calls for "a new underground railroad."
Like the mass movement before the collapse of slavery in the South, Alexander says we need a new movement of homes, churches, informal networks within communities to embrace and route people out of captivity today.
This is what we are building, together.