The Church Behind Bars

The Church Behind Bars

Did you know that Oklahoma Episcopalians has a nearly 50-year history of sponsoring ministries inside State Prisons?  If not, as you might expect, we have people in our Diocese who could tell you many stories about those experiences, as well as share various perspectives we have gained through years of engaging in restorative ministries with those most affected by today's criminal justice system.

Our Diocese has a Team of Prison Ministry Coordinators, representing a variety of congregations, who lead various restorative justice-related ministries throughout our State.  One of our Coordinators, ELCA Deacon Sue Way, serves as our primary liaison to Kairos Prison Ministries, a Christian organization offering a variety of ministry opportunities, both inside and outside correctional facilities.

Here is Deacon Sue, to tell you more about Kairos and share some ways in which you and your congregation might become involved:

"Ministries in Forgotten Places - Kairos"
by Deacon Sue Way

One of the ministries I have been involved with for over 21 years is Kairos Prison Ministry, which is modeled after Cursillo,** but the emphasis speaks to the incarcerated. The New Testament Greek word "Kairos" can be translated as "in the fullness of time," and we see Kairos Weekends as an opportunity for going beyond "doing time" into experiencing "God's timing" for the transformation of people's lives.  It is about God’s unconditional love for all his children and his offer of forgiveness.  The talks and activities and the team members embrace that message, and by the end of the weekend, many find their place in God’s kingdom.  Kairos International has programs in several states and several countries.  There are seven active Kairos ministries in Oklahoma, in men’s and women’s and juvenile correctional institutions, as well as Kairos Outside for families of the incarcerated.

Kairos involves not only a team of trained and badged volunteers but also many people on the “outside” who volunteer to help from there. We also have an outside team that cooks the meals for us and prays for us. Kairos has a generous program of handing out a dozen cookies to everyone on the prison yard, both inmates and staff, once during the weekend.  Each weekend can have up to 42 participants, depending on team size, and the participants receive at least 5 dozen cookies.  This can be from 300 to 6000 dozen cookies needed.  We depend on outside help for this. On Friday, we bring in and hang a prayer chain with the names (first names only) of those who signed up to pray.  We ask for volunteers to sign up to pray for a morning or evening for 15 minutes during the 72 hours of the weekend. Each day represented on the prayer chain is a different color, and the impact is profound.

On Saturday we surprise them with personal encouragement in the form of letters, often unopened (which is special, because inmate mail is typically opened and pre-screened), written by team members. And on Saturday evening we present a forgiveness ceremony where they are encouraged to hand over individually written prayers for any form of forgiveness they need, and those are generally dissolved in water.  On Sunday we surprise them during our closing ceremony by drawing back a curtain revealing guests from the outside and former Kairos attendees. The effect of such a team that works as conduits for God’s love is massive. Even in the men’s prisons tears and change are abundant.  As with most prison ministries there is not a long line of folks wanting to participate, as the training also involves training and adherence to Department of Corrections regulations; but that all pales in the light of the Sunday afternoon closing ceremony, when we read and hear the reflections of those who have been changed.  Team members are also changed as they learn to love with the complete love of God and not with judgment.

For more information about various ways in which you and your congregation might become involved in this transformative ministry, please contact our Diocesan Prison Missioner, The Rev. Nancy Brock, at, or 1-405-232-4820, so that she might connect you with me or others nearer to your congregation's geographical location who can best assist you.


924 N. Robinson I Oklahoma City, OK 73102
(405) 232-4820
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm CST