Officials from the Virginia and Holston conferences and Chaplain Service Prison Ministry of Virginia met Nov. 30 with the executive director of Disciple Bible Outreach Ministry (DBOM) to develop a working agreement for expanding prison ministry within the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Meeting at Bonsack UMC in the Roanoke District, United Methodist Men presidents Jim Green of the Virginia Conference and Mike Smith of the Holston Conferences signed the agreement along with prison chaplains from both conferences and the Rev. Mark Hicks of North Carolina-based DBOM.
United Methodist Men on the denominational level have targeted prison ministry as a primary focus.
Photo caption above: Gene Mims (seated) of the Virginia Conference signs an agreement to establish a new prison ministry in with Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries. Standing, from left are: Mike Smith, president of UMMen in Holston Conference; the Rev. Paul Beigley, chaplain at Greensville Correctional Center; the Rev. Randy Myers, vice president of Chaplain Service Prison Ministry of Virginia; the Rev. Mark Hicks, executive director of Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries; the Rev. Glenn Rowley, director of Mission and Global Outreach for Virginia Conference; and Virginia Conference UMMen president Jim Green.
Gene Mims, lay person from the Petersburg District, is chair of the task force that is creating a new entity, to be called Disciple Bible Outreach Ministry-Virginia. A more official affiliation document should be ready in January after the new board applies for 501.C.3 non-profit status.
Responding to a call from Gil Hanke, president of United Methodist Men, Hicks said he began looking at how the ministry he’s led since its inception might grow from a one-state, two conference partnership to something that could happen across the connection.
“We’ve decided to establish affiliate organizations in their own areas,” said Hicks, "since prison systems are somewhat different in each state, and people like to support ministries in their own area.”
DBOM began in 1999 as a joint ministry of the North Carolina and Western North Carolina conferences to promote the popular Bible study series in prison settings -– and in all local churches. The ministry has grown to more than 300 volunteers involved in 70 correctional centers across North Carolina. In 2002, the organization was allowed to also enter the state’s juvenile justice system, and developed its own youth curriculum, “Rings of Fellowship,” based on Disciple Bible Study.
Retired Bishop Richard Wilke, author of the four-part adult Bible study series, is an active part of DBOM’s ministry.
DBOM will spin its current operation – which is solely based in North Carolina – into a national division with a North Carolina affiliate. The national office will then provide affiliates with training, materials and guidance. The organization is looking to establish affiliates in Tennessee, Kansas and New York, so the joint Virginia-Holston effort will be a pilot.
All volunteers must go through a certification process. The organization will offer training for volunteers who want to lead the Bible study in a local correctional facility.
"The training is exactly the same everywhere,” said Hicks. “We have to maintain the quality of the program. And it’s important that volunteers behave a certain way (inside the prisons) and know that they’ll be terminated if they do not.”
DBOM will set up a training session for prison chaplains in March, and then a larger statewide volunteer training in the fall.
Involvement of the chaplains’ group will help ease the start of this expansion of prison ministry, said the Rev. Randy Myers, vice president of Chaplain Services of Virginia. “A smooth relationship is so key,” Myers said. “Having that will really make everything flow together.”
There are six correctional centers in the Holston Conference part of the Commonwealth, and 40 within the boundary of the Virginia Conference. Three juvenile facilities exist -- all located in central Virginia.
The plan is to offer Disciple Bible Study groups in women’s facilities as well as men’s, and the “Rings” course in juvenile facilities.
“We don’t want to forget our United Methodist Women,” said Mims. “They’re the hardest-working folks we have.”
Also on the task force are the Rev. Glenn Rowley, Mission and Global Outreach director for the Virginia Conference; the Rev. Gaye King of the Holston Conference staff; the Rev. Paul Griffith, prison chaplain from Holston; the Rev. Paul Beighley, prison chaplain from Virginia; Linda Crane, the Rev. LeRoy Henry; and Lyman Hubbard.
Neill Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate.