BGAV Commemorates Upton's Retirement as Executive Director
Service of celebration and appreciation kicks off 199th annual meeting
The words of the master in Jesus’ parable found in Matthew25: 21 serve as inspiration to all Christians: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
The hundreds of attendees at John Upton’s retirement celebration, held at First Baptist Church of Newport News on Monday, November 14, 2022, voiced a similar sentiment for the recently retired BGAV executive director.Upton retired at the end of July after serving the BGAV for 27 years.
The evening was filled with key leaders who have worked with Upton. Tommy McDearis, pastor of Blacksburg Baptist, began by thanking Upton for 25 years of friendship and leadership.
McDearis recalled April 16, 2007, the day of tragedy atVirginia Tech. McDearis, who also serves as a chaplain with the Blacksburg police, was on the scene of the mass shooting when he received his first call from outside of the town. The call was from Upton in Richmond, asking if there was anything he or BGAV could do to help.
“I will never forget that phone call,” said an emotional McDearis. “You have earned our trust, respect, and love.”
Randy Shepley, senior pastor of FBC Newport News, welcomed the gathering. “It is a privilege for us to be a part of this,” he said. “This is a good day. It’s been an amazing journey, John.”
Shepley told a story about the first BGAV state meeting he attended. One of the speakers said that in our lives we are all either building fences or building tables. “John Upton is a person dedicated to building tables,” he concluded.
When Upton had his chance to speak, he was humble and thankful. “This is totally underserved,” he said. He adding that including his grandchildren in the program by recording them reading scripture was special.
“How do you sum up 27 years of working as us?” he asked.
He answered his own question. “You kept reminding me not to forget God’s joy. We didn’t forget God’s joy. You made this a wonderful walk.”
Upton also took time to encourage his successor, Wayne Faison, who would be elected two days later. “Thank you for surrendering to God’s call,” he said to Faison. “Let’s continue to build it. I’m still going to be around.”
BGAV Treasurer David Washburn took the stage after Upton. He spoke about how Upton’s vision from 2001, called Kingdom Advance, has been extremely successful. Many of the thriving ministries of BGAV today were birthed out of Kingdom Advance: Uptick, Kairos Initiative, Impact Missions, V3Church, Fresh Expressions and more.
Washburn said that for the last six years, BGAV has been seeking what God has for its future. Upton and other Virginia Baptist leaders have been in ongoing conversations with other leaders in North America. The movement that has come from those discussions is called Ascent.
Ascent is a group of partners in North America who are trying to tear down walls that separate us so that we can work together to re-engage and re-evangelize our continent. The name comes from the Psalms of Ascent -Psalms 120-134. The logo for this movement is reflective of the Japanese art of kintsugi—taking broken pieces and putting them back together to make something new and beautiful.
Washburn said that Upton’s wish for his legacy is for people to give to Ascent. Washburn and a group of BGAV leaders have been planning howto raise money for the new movement to honor Upton’s retirement. The group has set a goal of raising $1,000,000 for the cause before next year’s historic 200annual meeting of the BGAV in Richmond.
The leaders have already raised $275,000 toward the goal, stated Washburn. Some churches and ministry partners of BGAV have already stepped up to make an initial gift.
“We are better when we are a part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Washburn, after pointing out that BGAV helped launch some of the groups that are still leading the Baptist world today, including theSouthern Baptist Convention and the Baptist World Alliance.
The evening was also full of music led by the combination of a multi-church choir and the Uptick Artists worship team. Rachel Pierce, an Uptick alumna and the worship leader at FBC Ashland, led much of the night’s music, which reflected some of Upton’s favorite hymns.
Two musical highlights were the choir’s rousing rendition of“Shall We Gather/Down to the River to Pray” and a male quartet from the home church’s a cappella version of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.”
The evening concluded with a prayer of blessing by Faison and a moving version of “The Blessing” led by Uptick Artists.