Commencement at San Quentin

Songs, prayers, and tears marked the Golden Gate Seminary commencement ceremony. However, at this ceremony, graduates wore caps and gowns over their prison garb 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,” said Seminary President Jeff Iorg. “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.”

On June 28, 2013, five graduates received a Diploma in Christian Ministries and two received a Diploma in Theology from the Seminary’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 that range from church planting to evangelism to ministry training.

Golden Gate’s CLD program, which began in 1980, has more than 60 centers nationwide and is taught in 19 states and 9 languages, but San Quentin is the only prison location. This is the third time inmates have graduated from the 6.5-year-old San Quentin CLD center.

James Cavitt, one of the Diploma in Christian Ministries graduates who was invited to speak during commencement, shared 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.” The 35-year-old has been in prison since he was 17, and 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,” the California native 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. 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.”

Thirty-one-year-old Ferrari Moody, who also received a Diploma in Christian Ministries, agreed with Cavitt. “We appreciate the teachers’ willingness to come twice a week. We value their attitude towards us. They helped me to prepare for ministry, both emotionally and intellectually. I learned and grew from this experience.”

“Some of you will end up serving in ministries outside,” Iorg told the graduates. “And some of you will be ministry leaders here in San Quentin. God uses you wherever you are.”

Garrett Martin, who received a Diploma in Theology, has been preaching in prison for 15 years. The 50-year-old said that the degree qualifies him by providing a foundation. “Like Paul, I became all things to all men that some might be saved,” he said, referencing 1 Corinthians 9:22.

William Dew, who also received a Diploma in Theology, is from Riverside, CA. “I had a halfway house for addicts, and they used to ask me to preach,” the 58-year-old recalled. “I wasn’t qualified then, but now I am.” By participating in the program, Dew said he learned he could stick to a goal and achieve it. He said he also learned how little he actually knew about Christianity. He hopes to be paroled in July after 3 ½ years, and plans to continue his studies at the Seminary if he is accepted. “I'd like to someday be a chaplain and come into a place like San Quentin.”

Ken Brydon, who received a Diploma in Christian Ministries, is a 54-year-old writer who has been on the staff of the prison newspaper for several years. One of his short stories was selected in a national prison writing contest by writer Joyce Carol Oates. It is scheduled to be published in a collection of prison stories next year.

At the conclusion of the commencement ceremony, Dr. Iorg asked the graduates, “Why do you do this? Why do you attend Golden Gate’s CLD program and train yourselves for ministry?” He looked at each graduate as he answered the rhetorical question: “It’s about other people and sharing the gospel freely and openly with everyone.”