Special greetings to you all readers! A new page was written in the history of Orlando Gospel Assembly when on November 30, 2007, I was ordained as the new pastor of the congregation. Since January 2006, my wife Claire and I have commuted from Tampa every weekend – sometimes on Friday and some other times on Friday and Sunday – to help the congregation. It was not always easy because of the long drive but we were happy to be useful instruments in God’s hands for the glory of His Kingdom. However when the overseer of this church, Br. Glenn Walker, turned toward me from the pulpit on that day in the presence of an august assembly to let me know about my responsibility toward the church, my presence in Orlando took on a whole new meaning. In my heart, I felt that I reached a point of no return in my walk with God and in my commitment toward the Orlando Gospel Assembly. Why did that date become so special and what does it mean to that congregation?
Well, the whole experience was so overwhelming. After twenty-one years of working at different levels in the medical field and the last four years as the direct assistant of one of the most prominent cardiologist of Tampa, Dr. Sami Elchahal, I walked away from my career and from my job. A special lunch organized in my honor was not without emotion and the most significant gift received on that day was a Bible from my co-workers! A physician received a Bible from his co-workers as a good-bye present! Never heard of such thing before!
Driving that day from Tampa to Orlando was different. Every landmark looked so special … as I will no longer have to drive those eighty-six miles to attend church in Orlando. My mind was going in so many directions. I thought about the story of David in the Bible, anointed by the prophet Samuel. I tried to think about any ordination witnessed during my whole life in the Body of Christ but my search over my forty-seven years of existence came back with none. Most of the ministers that I knew were always in so much rush to pack up and go and very often after using their influence to split another church.
Once in a while, my wife would ask me, “How do you feel?” The answer always came back the same, “I just can’t believe this is happening to me!” She laughed and told me, “I always knew it since we were in Lakeland, when I was praying for you after you missed your medical test just for one point, you know, the test for your American license.” She was referring to the United States Medical Licensure Examination required from all foreign physicians before they could have certain privileges and fully practice medicine here in the States.
And once again I had to listen to all the details on how that voice told her that “He” was doing to me the same thing “He” did to Moses before using him to deliver the children of Israel. To change the focus from me, I replied, “I wonder what Br. Walker is doing now?”
“Well,” answered my wife, “he must be going through the same emotions that you are experiencing as you are the first person under his ministry to be ordained by him.”
Before I could answer anything my cell phone rang. It was Sister Betty Walker.
“Hi, Br. Hilaire! Where are you?”
“On I-4, driving toward Orlando. And you, where are you?”
“Somewhere on I-4 also. Don’t be late!”
“I hope not.” She must be thinking that I would change my mind at the last minute, I told myself. She hung up and my wife laughed. “Do you see what I mean? I wish someone could film both of you now.”
The closer I got to Oak Ridge, the thicker the tension got in the car. I thought about a text message from one brother in Orlando, “Are you nervous?” As soon as I pulled in the parking lot of the church, I understood why he could ask that question. There was such electricity in the air! Brother Paul and Sister Catherine Dyal from Jacksonville came in right behind us and hugged our neck. “Are you ready, Br. Hilaire? I feel God in this.”
“Yes, I am, Sir!” I answered filled with emotion.
As I walked in the sanctuary, just looking at the composition of the congregation made me realized how special that day was. My brothers and sisters from the Gospel Assembly of Central Florida (Lakeland) were scattered here and there, mixed with the saints of the Orlando church. Some of them have journeyed with me for the past eleven years under the skillful ministry of Brother Glenn Walker, some others a little less than eleven years. Nevertheless, there was that bond among us and the expectation that night was high as my name has been called for a bigger task. Later during the service, I recognized faces of friends, colleagues from medical school and co-workers who came to honor that special event in my life even if they did not share the same beliefs that we have in the Body of Christ.
Yes! November 30, 2007 will always remain a special day both for me and for the Orlando Gospel Assembly! That was the official day of a higher calling in my life and a new beginning for this congregation! The Spirit of God was there so strong and so sweet. I felt my heart melting in my chest as the service went on. Every word from Brother Walker marked me so deep. Every expression stirred up so many flashbacks of notions and principles learned under his leadership. The experiences I went through during my life were all coming back to me and I could see the hand of God molding me and shaping my life through the years. The success and failures, the joyful moments and the sufferings, the hope and disappointments of the past had new meanings to me. I suddenly realized that I was chosen for a special purpose and my life would no longer be the same. His words were like balls of fire burning something inside. “To be a pastor, you need to start being a servant first.” ”There is a proving to your ministry and you prove your ministry by being a servant.” “A good degree is a good standing…” Somehow I was getting into a relationship that reminded me the serious commitment of a marriage.
My overseer and pastor reached the apex of his speech when using Numbers 27:18-20, he solemnly turned toward me and said before that august congregation:
“I, Glenn Walker, give charge to Joël Hilaire, son of Luc Hilaire:
- to love
- to feed
- to always remember that you are dealing with God’s people
- to be a servant to God’s people
- as you make mistakes to be humble enough to seek counsel.”
Then came the ordination followed by a speech from Brother P. Dyal where he reminded me not to take my ordination lightly as I became now part of the lineage of Brother Clyde Patton who fourteen to fifteen years ago ordained brother Glenn Walker as the pastor of the Gospel Assembly of Central Florida formerly known as the Gospel Assembly of Tampa Bay. Now when I think about my ministry I need to be thankful for my heritage that started with:
- Brother Williams Sowders (1911)
- Brother Clyde Patton (1946)
- Brother Glenn Walker (ordained by bro. Patton in 1992)
- Brother Joël Hilaire (November 30, 2007)
Through my natural father who received the message of the Body of Christ from Brother Nick Gruick in April 1967, my eyes were open to the truth found among this Body of people. But for some reasons unknown to me till this day, God has also included me in the lineage of Brother Clyde Patton through Brother Glenn Walker. Nine years already have gone by since those events have filled another page in the history of the Orlando Gospel Assembly. November 30, 2007 marked a new beginning. It was a new day filled with hope for strength and stability in the Lord. This church has the opportunity and the potential to become a leading assembly in the Body of Christ, able to inspire others to labor in righteousness, knowing that God has a special plan for all his children. We are delighted to see how it has blossomed so far to the point that we need a new facility to accommodate all of God’s people. May the Lord open doors for us and bless us also naturally as we are striving to qualify ourselves as useful instruments in the hands of God for the Glory of His Kingdom!
Dr. Joël Hilaire
Pastor of Orlando Gospel Assembly