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Struggles Aid Alumna’s Ministry to the Needy

It’s been a long, bumpy road in life for Claudia Lovelace. After spending much of her younger years either on the streets or behind bars, she’s now on a smooth and more predictable path as executive director of Skyline Urban Ministry.

As rough and chaotic as her former years were, Lovelace says her life experiences make her uniquely qualified for her position. 

“I am able to relate to prison inmates and people who are on the fringes of society, probably because I have already been where they have been,” Lovelace said.

Born in southern California, Lovelace ran away from home at the age of 14 and raised herself on the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Drugs and prostitution were the cornerstones of her life.

“Everything you hear people say about the ’60s is true — drugs, sex, and rock and roll. That was how I was living,” she said.

Lovelace promised herself that if she were still living on the streets by the time she turned 24, she would leave the city in search of a better life. She sought help through a government program, earned some money and explored new states and cities. 

She came to Oklahoma on a vacation and “fell in love with it in a week. I gave my two-weeks notice at work and moved out here, mostly out of excitement by Oklahoma’s liquor-by-the-drink laws.”

She later joined the Army in her early 30s, but was kicked out after two years because of drinking problems.

“My life was a mess, and the problems escalated. I was in relationship after relationship. 

“Around 1993 I decided to get sober. I checked into a treatment center in Tulsa and eventually became a counselor. It didn’t last — I relapsed.”

She studied the Bible while serving time on a DUI conviction —  not her first — and joined a United Methodist prison ministry.

“I was 46 years old and on my way to prison. Most women slept in, but I got up early and watched TV. I prayed, ‘If this is how I’m taking care of myself, I’m through.’ I felt immediate relief from that.

“Shortly after I was released from prison, I gave my life story at St. Luke’s (United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City). The whole congregation stood up and applauded. I knew right then that I was where I needed to be,” Lovelace said. 

She worked in prison ministry for a while, and soon decided to grow into higher church leadership positions. For that, she would need more education.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma City University while working as a drug and alcohol counselor. She had previously obtained credentials as a licensed practical nurse, so she fit right in at the treatment centers.

After graduating from OCU in 2002 with a religion degree, she became a pastor at a church near Pauls Valley. Desiring more education, she went to Perkins Theological Seminary at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and earned a Master of Divinity in 2007. 

She returned to Oklahoma City and became pastor of the South Lee United Methodist Church, across the street from Capitol Hill High School. While there, the conference district superintendent asked her to consider moving to Skyline.

“I was known for preaching and teaching the homeless. The bishop asked what I had to give. I said, ‘I’ve been on assistance, I’ve been homeless, I’ve been in the same situation as the clients. That’s what I have to give — my experience.’” 

With very little administrative experience, Lovelace became a student again, taking classes on her own and from the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits to learn how to run the ministry.

As someone who has failed herself on multiple occasions, Lovelace says she understands the patience sometimes required to turn a life around.

There are no ‘throw-away’ people.

“We should accept people who are struggling to change, not run them off for being different. When they want help, we should help them, and not be obsessed with disappointment if they slip,” she said. “There are no ‘throw-away’ people.”

 

Skyline Urban Ministry

Major projects the United Methodist ministry sponsors include:

  • Prom dress donation event — “Prom is a rite of passage for high school girls,” Lovelace said. “Some families are forced to choose between yearbook photos and prom. We believe no girl should have to miss out because they can’t afford it.” She added that since the ministry started hosting the event, hair stylists have called offering their services.
  • Clothing Closet store — Lovelace says it helps people retain their dignity when they’re allowed to shop for what they like. Therefore, all of the items in the store are held at no more than 50 cents. There is also free clothing available and the store sells household goods.
  • Eye Clinic — The ministry has an on-site clinic that offers free eye exams and reduced-cost frames for clients.
  • Food Resource Center — A fully stocked grocery store where clients are provided a check-off sheet for categories like fruit, vegetables, bread, canned foods and dairy products. Clients are allowed to shop for the items they would enjoy eating, rather than having the food picked out for them. 

 

For more information, visit the Skyline Urban Ministry website at skylineurbanministry.org.