The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) investment into a program designed to equip and train inmates to serve as ministers in the North Carolina prison system is bearing fruit after its inaugural year.
Jamie Dew, dean of the College at Southeastern, shared an update on Southeastern’s N.C. Prison Field Ministry Program with members of the BSC Executive Committee during a regularly scheduled meeting on Thurs., April 12 at the convention offices in Cary.
The Prison Field Ministry Program provides inmates serving long-term or life sentences the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry. Upon completion of the program, inmates may be deployed to various correctional facilities across the state, where they will serve as ministers to other inmates.
The program was born out of a partnership between Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Game Plan for Life ministries and the N.C. Department of Public Safety. In May 2017, the BSC Executive Committee voted to provide $69,500 in funding to the program over five years, beginning with an initial contribution of $36,000 made last year.
Dew said the state convention’s contribution allowed the program to purchase textbooks and other resources for the students. Dew also reported that 28 students have completed the first year of study, and they finished with a collective 3.8 grade point average (GPA).
“You have really helped us do this,” Dew told the committee and convention leaders. “Your contribution filled a gap in a very big way this year. We used the funds that you contributed to buy textbooks and some other things that were vitally important. So I just want to say thank you. Your support means the world to us and made this possible.”
Dew also shared a written testimony from one of the students in the program. It read in part, “My being in seminary taught me all these valuable things … in how to approach men in need and disciple them with the word of God and be an encouragement in a world that can be dark at times.”
BSC Executive Director-Treasurer Milton A. Hollifield Jr. said the convention’s investment in the program allows N.C. Baptists to be a part of providing a consistent gospel witness inside the state’s prison system for years to come.
“This fits right under our strategy of creating a disciple-making culture,” Hollifield said. “It’s helping us do what the strategy sets forth in impacting lostness through disciple-making.”
New committee appointments
In other business, John Mark Harrison, pastor of Apex Baptist Church and vice president of the BSC Board of Directors, announced appointees to the convention’s Articles and Bylaws Special Committee, Budget Special Committee and Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee on behalf of board president Marc Francis.
Francis, who serves as pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Durham, was unable to attend the meeting due to a prior commitment. As board president, Francis is authorized to appoint individuals to serve on these committees each year. He announced some appointees during the Executive Committee’s previous meeting in early March.
New appointees to the Articles and Bylaws Special Committee are: Don Goforth of Great Marsh Baptist Church in St. Pauls; and Kelton Hinton of Princeton Baptist Church.
The new appointee to the Budget Special Committee is Barbara Bowen of Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh.
New at-large appointees to the Christian Life and Public Affairs Special Committee are: Lee Davis of Crosslink Community Church in Mebane; Ben Francis of Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia; and Josh Hayes of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Marion.
Q1 financial update
Beverly Volz, director of accounting services, also shared a financial update with the committee.
Volz reported that through the first quarter of 2018, Cooperative Program giving receipts lagged about 18.8 percent behind the year-to-date budget projections and about 12.7 percent behind year-over-year giving comparisons with 2017.
Giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the North Carolina Missions Offering were also down in year-over-year comparisons through the first quarter of 2018 by about 13.1 percent, 14.4 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively.
Volz and other convention leaders cautioned against reading too much into the report at this time, adding that they expect giving to even out as the year goes on.
Convention bylaws stipulate that year-end funds received from churches are counted toward the previous year’s giving totals for five business days following the last Sunday of the year. Since Dec. 31 fell on a Sunday in 2017, all funds received by the convention through the close of business on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 were counted toward 2017.
“We did know this was going to happen,” Volz said. “We call it the ‘December effect.’ Basically our first week of 2018 was committed to 2017. We lost that week, so we are trying to gain ground. We are gaining some momentum.”
John Butler, executive leader for business services, added, “I do think we’ll start to make that (difference) up as we get into the next month or so. The good thing is that since we anticipated this timing shortfall, we planned for it and are still operating in the black so far this year.”