Inmates graduate from Seminary at San Quentin Chapel as part of Southern Baptist program by Peter Menkin

  What’s the point of making ministers of men who are so far gone to the criminal side?   I think that as the men really grow in their understanding of God, their life can be lived for Christ. They can get a perspective on where they’ve been and what opportunities God can have for them. Men in prison have committed crimes and made fairly large mistakes in the way they lived life; I believe God has placed them in a unique position to minister to others in the same circumstance.   Because of their past mistakes they are more fully able to minister to those who are in the same place before they go to prison. I believe that through their trials, their mistakes, they have a voice for reconciliation, or voice for understanding for those who are making the same mistakes: criminal activities, or drug use. Things that the person sitting in the pews may not fully comprehend.   One of the biggest things that strikes me, as God redeems the men; he redeems their actions to positive contributions in the future.     What other Church activities are you involved with in the Southern Baptist tradition?   I also work fulltime, and I am ministering in a Church in San Francisco part time. I work with the facilities department of the seminary. First Baptist Church, San Francisco. It’s on Octavia and Waller, where Octavia hits market. We run about 250 to 300 people on a Sunday morning. We are in the process of growing. I work with small group ministry, overseeing them and in security, making the place a safer place to worship. The work with prisoners is a ministry, and it is a volunteer job as adjunct teaching position. All the teachers with the Seminary program at San Quentin are unpaid volunteers.         Phyllis Evans wrote in an article about the inmates earning a Seminary diploma: Most CLD graduates have the option of participating in commencement ceremonies at one of Golden Gate Seminary’s five campuses. But for the San Quentin grads, the ceremony went to the prison. More than 150 inmates and guests attended the ceremony in the prison’s Protestant chapel.

“These graduates are receiving the same experience as our other graduates,” Jeff Iorg, the seminary’s president, said. “The program is the same, the people on the podium are the same, the diploma is the same, and we expect the same kind of results from these graduates as from our other graduates.

“Some may wonder why such a program would be offered in prison, where many of the graduates will never be paroled,” Iorg said. “Our mission is training leaders to expand God’s Kingdom. The church is in San Quentin and needs leaders here, too.”

  Inmate Mark Baldwin, in his remarks from the podium, told those present and his teachers that jail is a journey. He said he’s been incarcerated in three institutions—and now San Quentin. He spoke of how humbled he was by the program, his graduation, and entry into ministry. He mostly spoke of his thanks to this place in San Quentin (the Chapel), and offered his thanks for the support of his family, friends and fellow prisoners. He closed his remarks with, “Good night. God bless.”   Local reporter for “The Marin Independent Journal” Christian Goepel… said of inmate Baldwin, now minister Baldwin, “Baldwin has long taught Bible study and an apologetics class, which offers instruction along with defending the fundamentals of Christian faith. He is serving a life sentence, but said he will use what he learned on his long journey to promote ministry and help others in prison.”   Inmate Robert Butler spoke of this graduation for him as a “defining moment in my life.” Of the three African American, and one white graduates, all were pleased, honored and proud to be graduates of the Seminary, and now ready to enter into a lifetime of ministry to their fellow prisoners at San Quentin, or wherever incarcerated.     Photos by Terry Peck. Note writer and friend are shown exiting prison Protestant Chapel after graduation ceremonies.

Images: (1) Seminary President The Reverend Doctor Jeff P. Iorg with graduate Robert I. Butler, California; (2) The Reverend Morris A. Currry, Jr., Protestant Chaplain, San Quentin Garden Chapel. Pastor Curry worked 20 years as a volunteer at the prison, and has been Pastor on paid staff now for five years. ; (3) Pastor Curry. He is committed to the community through helping it to regain its moral base by promoting a value system based on Agape: “Consider others more important than yourself” (Philippians 2:3); (4) Darrell Cortez Hartley, at the laying on of hands in his robe. The Missouri born prisoner received his diploma in Christian Ministry at San Quentin Garden Chapel June 10, 2010 along with three other inmates; (5) The writer exiting San Quentin Garden Chapel which is inside the prison, a maximum security institution located in California’s Marin County, north of San Francisco. Accompanying the writer is a friend who came to witness the graduation. There were few guests in attendance; (6) Laying on of hands, for the spirit of ministry was conferred by faculty of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, California–but 20 minutes from the prison.

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA (north of San Francisco). My blog: http://www.petermenkin.blogspot.com He is 63 years old as of 2009.