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The pale-blue elementary school auditorium that houses the Chapel was a little more full than usual on Sunday. The extra attendees were there to witness the ordination of Roger Ziegler, a minister to Yard Three at the maximum-security Donovan State Prison. A card circulated through the congregation, and people wrote their congratulations. “Roger has a lot of friends,” commented Chapel pastor John Hilton, “because Roger has impacted a lot of lives. God is using Roger in a tremendous way.” (Ziegler noted that several of those present were former inmates, “men that God has touched on the inside who are now on the outside, serving Him.”)

Hilton had known Ziegler since his early days as a small-group leader with the Rock Church. “I went over to this house,” recalled Hilton, “and I could tell he was pretty well committed because he said, ‘Well, we built this huge add-on room for the small-group meetings.’ He has a way that God has given him — he can see people that have some kind of distress. Roger will say, ‘That person is hurting.’ And he calls them, and he touches them.... I think God made Roger for that prison ministry.”

And so, said Hilton, “We’re going to have an ordination service, and we’re going to ordain Roger to the ministry. See, the Chapel doesn’t really have the power to do much of anything — but it helps Roger that somebody’s recognized that he has these gifts. The Chapel didn’t give him these gifts.... All we’re really doing is recognizing the call of God on Roger’s life. That’s what the ordination is; we don’t have any hocus-pocus magic.” The congregation laughed.

Ziegler took the podium. “I am so honored to be here today,” he announced. “That He would allow me the privilege to receive ordination from this man right here.” He recounted his growing involvement with prison ministry, starting with a Tuesday Bible study. “A month went by, and then a year, and then a couple of years. During that time, God began to do something to my heart. I can’t explain it to you because prison is not a place that anybody really wants to go. I’ll go out and talk to men’s groups, and I’ll share my heart out about the miracles that God is doing in the prison, and I’ll ask for volunteers, and everyone will turn and run the other way. That’s where I was. But God has a way of capturing the heart, even in the midst of our disobedience.”

Now he was involved full-time. “My heart is just becoming more passionate for these inmates. I do three services each Sunday morning, and it’s, like, ‘These are my boys. These are my sons.’ I’m telling you, this is where I belong. My mind is getting twisted — I’m serious — sometimes I have to check myself. Sometimes, I think, Why don’t I just get a room here? God calls us to go in there and share His love with these men. If we don’t do it, please tell me, who will? The implanted word does something to a man. When you see these guys change right in front of your eyes, it messes you up. It’s, like, Lord, how can I possibly do anything else?”

He closed with a letter from an inmate serving a life sentence — the man was 28 and had been incarcerated since he was 15. “Pastor Roger, you are a good man. I genuinely see God working in you.... I can really say we love you. In this negative environment, it is important that we see great examples. You are one of them, brother.”

Roger and his wife Peggy sat on chairs before the congregation. “We’re recognizing that God has His hand on Roger,” said Hilton. “We’re going to place our hands on Roger, symbolically. I want to ask all the men to come up, and we’re going to put hands on Roger and Peggy. If you can’t quite touch Roger, touch somebody else — the hand will touch the hand.” The men (and one woman) came forward and surrounded Ziegler, hands on shoulders.

The man directly behind Ziegler offered a prayer. “Heavenly Father, we come to You with joy.... You sent Jesus to make a way, to give us freedom from the penalty, the power, and, ultimately, the presence of sin. You called certain ones for special assignment, God. We recognize that this is Your gift, that You are the one who enables. And so we thank You, Lord God, for calling our beloved brother Roger and our beloved sister Peggy.... They shine brightly as a light in a dark place.... In the name of Jesus, we ordain him to the Gospel ministry.”

What happens when we die?

“I believe that if you accept Christ as your savior, you go to heaven,” said Hilton.

Check the video at sdreader.com for other elements of the service. — Matthew Lickona

Denomination: Southern Baptist
Address: 3900 Violet Street, La Mesa, 619-933-1035
Founded locally: 2004
Senior pastor: John Hilton
Congregation size: about 80
Staff size: 3
Sunday school enrollment: about 25
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to formal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian and African American
Sunday worship: 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Website: thechapelsd.org

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