Delayed, deserved affirmation

The Rev. Ginny Bridges Ireland speaks with Thomas Wayne Hartman, a member of First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tenn.

By John D. Pierce

Ginny Bridges Ireland and I first got acquainted long ago when we were both campus ministers. Together we led a weekend retreat and Sunday worship for a church in the North Georgia mountains.

Through the decades I have enjoyed reconnecting with Ginny and her pastor-husband Bill who served churches in Georgia and North Carolina.

Several years ago Bill joined the Nurturing Faith Board of Directors, and the Irelands and I have found ongoing opportunities to be supportive friends to one another.

In more recent years, following a challenging time in their lives, the Irelands moved to Chattanooga and became part of the First Baptist Church family — a wonderful congregation I got to know well as interim pastor in 2010. It was pleasing to see this coming together of friends I knew would love each other.

Yesterday’s morning worship service was dedicated to Ginny’s ordination to the gospel ministry. It was a beautiful and fitting experience — yet something of a surprise.

Like many, I’d assumed Ginny had been ordained long ago — perhaps going back to her campus ministry years at Samford University in Birmingham.

However, Ginny never held a ministry position that required ordination — and many Baptist congregations that urge girls and young women to hear and follow God’s calling aren’t as affirming as they should be of those who actually respond to such calls.

And as Ginny noted: “[T]here were very few role models of women in ministry” in the early years of her calling.

However, despite denominational politics, disappointments and depression, Ginny said, “The one aspect I could not shake was the divine hand on my shoulder and the fire in my bones.”

Ginny with pastor Thomas Quisenberry during the service of her ordination

Yesterday, Ginny’s family, friends and church family added their hands to her shoulders to affirm this clear and compassionate calling on her life.

As an ordained hospice chaplain now, Ginny has met a requirement for board certification. Yet her ordination was far more than simply fulfilling some vocational qualification.

It was the public recognition of a uniquely gifted and committed follower of Jesus who extends grace and mercy to others in their deepest times of need.

“Delayed gratification” was a mark of our earlier careers in campus ministry. We would invest in the emerging lives of college students while praying and hoping for a lasting impact.

“Delayed affirmation” is what took place yesterday at the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tenn., when a gifted and experienced minister was “set aside” to continuing serving with effectiveness and as a model for others.

Ginny said her untrained, non-ordained mother was her earliest model for ministry — caring for the needs of others. It is a reminder that everyone is called to serve.

Ordination, Ginny noted, doesn’t make her more spiritual, gifted or effective. Yet it acknowledges the unique calling on her life — and opens up the possibility that others may be more attuned to hearing and responding to such a call.

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