This past Sunday was the most encouraging and affirming day of the past decade of ministry for me.
It was my Ordination Service.
There is no way I could possibly describe all that happened here (maybe I will attempt it at another time). Words are unable to assist me fully in describing how meaningful the morning was for me. It was a surreal experience, as I was not told much beforehand. I was simply told to show up a few minutes before the service began – and I need not prepare anything. Just show up. If you’ve never been to an ordination service, truthfully sometimes they can be formal and dry. Fortunately, it was formal and special, but it was equally as personal and life-giving. The morning was filled with formal readings and deep laughter. Rich liturgy and personal stories. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
I was honored by those in attendance: my parents flew in from Phoenix (which I knew about ahead of time) but my younger brother Alan (a pastor in Colorado) completely surprised me when he walked in our house on Saturday afternoon! One of my best friends and colleagues in ministry Chris Backert left his house at 4AM and drove from Richmond, VA to be with us. Several friends in the region attended the service, along with the entire Renew family. I knew it would be special, but I didn’t know just how meaningful it would be. I cried for much of it, wept in parts of it and had watery eyes for all of it. The tears started flowing during the first verse of the first worship song we sang. It was then I knew I was in trouble…
We began with a time of rich worship and communion, followed by Doug Moister (one of the pastors I have the privilege of serving alongside of in Renew) who described the purpose and the process of ordination and what would happen throughout the morning. Dennis Brice (an ordained Scottish-Presbyterian minister, friend and Renew elder) preached from Romans 12:1 in a way only Dennis can. I am deeply indebted to Dennis for his kind and personal charge to me.
I was then invited up as several pastors and elders told stories of evidenced faith – starting with my dad and brother describing my faith at a young age. Derek Cooper (my friend and former seminary professor from Biblical Seminary) read Scripture, followed by stories of blessing by Todd Hiestand (my good friend and pastor of The Well in Feasterville, PA). Duane Freed (friend and fellow Renew elder) spoke words of blessing and encouragement to me as he recounted stories of the early stages of starting Renew. The Rev. Dr. Chris Backert (who came representing The Ecclesia Network) shared how during a time of prayer the Lord had given him the reason why my ordination was taking place now and not ten years ago when I began in ministry: because I was being ordained not just as a pastor but also as an apostle who pastors other pastors.
In the best sense of it, I felt like I was attending my own funeral. Few have the privilege of hearing eulogies and stories of their life while they are still alive! Those words shared are gifts I will always treasure. Each person’s words unleashed more warm tears down my cheeks. I think I had tears in my eyes for two solid hours.
Tim Culp (a Renew elder) led the questions of my Charge, followed by the others mentioned, who asked the questions of commitment to continue in faithful service to the Lord in the future. After my Time of Response, Megan came forward to be with me and Tim facilitated the sacred time of laying on of hands in prayer for both of us. Our boys were brought up as well. The pastors and elders up front gathered around our family, followed by our Renew house church shepherds and leaders. Then, almost everyone else from Renew who attended that morning, surrounded us as well. Several prayed, thanking God for our past, but also praying faithful prayers of God’s blessing and direction of our future, too. And we cried a lot more.
As people returned to their seats, Dennis presented me to the congregation as Rev. J.R. Briggs. Renew stood to their feet and clapped, shouted, cheered, jumped up and down and whistled in reverent celebration (something our church is known for doing with great passion during times of celebration). In that moment, I didn’t cry. I wept.
For those who know my past, this day was more than an Ordination Service for me. It was a time of healing. Renew knew it was a time of healing for me. The tears were tears of joy and gratitude, but they were also healing tears helping me move on from past deep ministry wounds. The tears were liquid prayers, thanking God for healing the pain and feeling in a deep and real way the affirmation from God and others moving forward. Never have I felt so honored and loved and affirmed by a church – any church – than in that moment, not out of attention or self-glorification, but in feeling affirmed in what God has done and is doing in and through me for His purposes. It was as if they were saying in unison “We agree! God is doing a good work!”
Chris called up our six year old son Carter, who (unbeknownst to me) had written out a prayer to close the service. Carter (with assistance from Chris) prayed this prayer for me.
Dear God, thank you that Daddy is a good pastor and that I know he loves you and will love you forever and ever. God, I pray that he would continue to be a good pastor. Amen.
And, of course, more tears.
The church had organized lunch in a reserved room of a local restaurant a block away. It felt like the entire church showed up. Many gave me written notes of encouragement, with stories and verses and affirmation
What a privilege it is to serve the Lord – and what a privilege it is to serve the Lord in the context of this little church of broken-yet-beautiful people called The Renew Community. I wouldn’t want my ordination to happen with any other group of people. I can’t possibly thank everyone who deserves to be thanked for making Sunday the most meaningful day of my life as a pastor. But, for what it’s worth, as trite as it sounds, thank you (you know who you are). I am deeply grateful for those who have poured into me, spoken truth to me, prayed for and with me, befriended me, mentored and discipled me, extended grace to me, encouraged me and confronted me when appropriate. And most importantly, I can’t possibly thank the Lord fully for His call on my life at a young age to serve as a minister of the gospel. I only hope that I will be faithful in my calling in the years to come.
soli deo gloria.