MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP) — Songs, prayers and tears marked the commencement ceremony even though the graduates were wearing prison garb under their regalia — and the service was held at San Quentin State Prison in California.
“What we do here at San Quentin reveals the heart of Golden Gate Seminary,” GGBTS President Jeff Iorg said. “We provide a serious academic education, and we also recognize each person individually, acknowledging how God has worked within each to help him grow and develop as a ministry leader.”
Five San Quentin graduates received diplomas in Christian ministries and two received diplomas in theology from Golden Gate’s Contextualized Leadership Development Program (CLD).
“The word ‘contextualized’ means the material is taught in the language and culture of a particular people group,” said Don Beall, the seminary’s national CLD director.
The 136 inmates in the program at San Quentin are taught by seminary students and alumni on a volunteer basis. The program takes two to three years to complete and instruction includes eight classes on such subjects as church planting, evangelism and ministry training.
Golden Gate’s overall CLD program, which began in 1980, has more than 60 centers nationwide in 19 states and is taught in nine languages. San Quentin, however, is the only prison location. This is the third time inmates have graduated from San Quentin’s CLD center, begun six years ago.
James Cavitt, 35, one of the diploma in Christian ministries graduates who was invited to speak during commencement, recounted how he had given up on God when he was a young boy. “For me to be here today, to call Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, is surely a miracle of God,” said Cavitt, who has been in prison since he was 17. With tears running down his cheeks, he thanked the teachers for their faithfulness, encouragement and support.
“If I were to single out one thing about this CLD program, it would be the teachers,” Cavitt said. “People think that because of where we are that we receive a watered-down gospel, and a watered-down education.
“But that is so far from the truth. These educators who come here, they know their stuff,” Cavitt said. “You get a good grade because you earned a good grade. These teachers care about educating us, and they care about us — inside the walls of San Quentin Prison. Not once did they judge me.
“They challenged, encouraged, inspired, corrected and listened.”
Ferrari Moody, 31, who also received a diploma in Christian ministries, concurred. “We appreciate the teachers’ willingness to come twice a week. We value their attitude towards us,” Moody said. “They helped me to prepare for ministry, both emotionally and intellectually. I learned and grew from this experience.”
“Some of you,” Iorg told the graduates, “will end up serving in ministries outside. And some of you will be ministry leaders here in San Quentin. God uses you wherever you are.”
Garrett Martin, 50, who received a diploma in theology, has been preaching in prison for 15 years. He said the degree has provided him with a foundation. “Like Paul, I became all things to all men that some might be saved,” Martin said, referencing 1 Corinthians 9:22.
William Dew, 58, who also received a diploma in theology, said he once operated a halfway house for addicts, “and they used to ask me to preach.”
“I wasn’t qualified then, but now I am.”
Dew said he learned he could stick to a goal and achieve it by participating in the CLD program. He said he also learned how little he actually knew about Christianity. Dew hopes to be paroled after three and a half years and plans to continue his studies at the seminary if he is accepted for enrollment. “I’d like to someday be a chaplain,” Dew said, “and come into a place like San Quentin.”
Ken Brydon, 54, a diploma in Christian ministries graduate, has been on the prison newspaper’s staff for several years. One of his short stories was selected in a national prison writing contest by writer Joyce Carol Oates and is scheduled to be published in a collection of prison stories next year.
At the conclusion of the June 28 commencement, Iorg asked the graduates, “Why do you do this? Why do you attend Golden Gate’s CLD program and train yourselves for ministry?”
Iorg looked at the graduates as he answered the rhetorical question: “It’s about other people and sharing the Gospel freely and openly with everyone.”
Phyllis Evans is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, on the Web at www.ggbts.edu, a Cooperative Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention, operating five fully-accredited campuses — in Northern California, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Colorado.