The Rev. Henrietta Rivers Ordained to the Priesthood

Henrietta Rivers stands in front after ordination

“All Glory Belongs to God!”

Rivers First African American Woman to be Ordained a Priest in Diocese’s History

On Tuesday, September 13, 2022, The Rev. Henrietta Rivers was ordained to the sacred order of priests by Bishop Chip Edgar at St. John’s Chapel, Charleston. The service was a glorious gathering, bringing priests and laity from around the Diocese to celebrate the occasion.

Henrietta holds a Master of Divinity degree from Trinity School for Ministry and has the daily privilege of sharing the Gospel of Christ to students at Porter Gaud School as the Middle School Chaplain. In addition to teaching and pastoral care at the school, Henrietta serves as an Intern at the Church of the Holy Cross, Sullivan’s and Daniel Islands and also serves at St. John’s Chapel, Charleston where her husband, The Rev. Matthew Rivers, is the Rector. Henrietta and Matthew have two adult children: Kariesha Richardson and Herbert Jordan Drayton. She serves on the board of the Anglican Women of South Carolina, and served on the Bishop’s Search Committee for the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina.

Prior to the ordination we had an opportunity to interview Henrietta. Here is an abbreviated version of the interview. (Joy Hunter – Editor)

How did you come to Christ?

I came to Christ when I came to the end of myself. After hitting all of the indications of success, as I and the world defined them, I was still very unsatisfied. I wanted to be an example to my children but struggled with how to cultivate my own relationship with Jesus. Early one morning, at 2:30 a.m., while singing worship songs on a ladder, painting a vaulted ceiling, I began screaming and crying out to the Lord. I was empty and just existing and I couldn’t do it anymore. After pouring out everything within me that night until I had neither tears or a voice, I fell asleep on the floor. The next morning, I woke knowing that He was Lord and that He was with me. From that day, Jesus revealed Himself through everything: billboards, people, songs, street signs, and scripture. I finally realized He had been chasing after me the whole time. In response, I chased after Him.

When did you first sense a call to ordained ministry ?

For me, I find fulfillment and contentment in the ministries I serve, until it is time for the next step. God will illuminate a need and plant a hunger in me to fill it or He will subtly position me, and by the time I realize what He has done, I’m moving in the direction of purpose. My call happened both ways.

I went to seminary with my own agenda, but God revealed and confirmed His call and His agenda before the end of my first year. I kept it secret for a while but He was relentless in His pursuit, confirming it in dreams and through others. Because the Lord knew I would still need more confirmation, He illuminated the steps so clearly (even in what seemed like denial or closed doors) until I could no longer deny it was His will for my life.

You’re a middle school chaplain, an intern at HCSI, you minister alongside your husband, you have an online video ministry…. Which of these makes you come alive the most?

The part of ministry I enjoy the most, is exalting Jesus, whether that’s from the pulpit, in the classroom, during a live broadcast, in counseling sessions one on one, or at large. He’s the greatest gift and I simply want to share Him. When He is high and lifted up, He will draw men to Himself.

What makes your ministry unique?

I love working in the church but as a chaplain at Porter-Gaud I have the tremendous privilege of impacting young lives daily. It’s a mission field and missional work requires that you go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus daily. I don’t get a day off from proclaiming His goodness or teaching His love and sacrifice. I remember the person who impacted my spiritual journey in my youth and I strive to be that person to every student I encounter.

What’s the best part of being called to serve the Lord Jesus?

I’m a walking billboard, of a perfect Savior dying, for a wretch like me. When I am declaring the Gospel, I am a living witness and no one can dispute what He has done in my life. So I get to share the transformative power of His love, His sacrifice, His grace, and His mercy as a vocation, even though I would totally do it for free.

What specific gifts do you bring to the body of Christ (the Church)?

The gift I believe absolutely necessary to the body, is my gift of faith. I actually believe the Word of God. I’ve been called a fool for believing when what is happening in the natural world appears contradictory to the Word of God. I’ve been told “it doesn’t take all of that.” My superpower is that I BELIEVE in Whom I’m called to serve and in what He has and will do, period.

What are you most looking forward to in being an ordained priest?

When I began reading the Bible, I was most fascinated by everything in red. I wanted to say the words Jesus spoke, even though I understood He inspired all of what is written. As an ordained priest, I am humbly privileged to celebrate the sacrifice of the Cross weekly during Eucharist. Even typing this, I am overwhelmed thinking of the great magnitude it is to guide the body of believers to the tangible reminder of the sacrament of reconciliation. I really don’t have words to explain the significance of this to me, just tears and a deep, inner knowledge of it’s relevance and enormity.

How can we support you?

I covet prayers and true accountability. I have seen the body of Christ turn a blind eye to the frailties of leaders, at a time when accountability and encouragement are needed most. I want to be surrounded by people who care first for my soul, and then the office to which I’m called.

What does it mean to you to be the first black woman priest in our diocese?

The fulfillment of this day is two-fold for me. It does come with an awareness of the struggle a people had to pray through and believe, that such a day would come, to them and those assisting them, trusting in God and His timing, without ever witnessing it. I want to acknowledge that those prayers are answered. But most importantly, Scripture doesn’t change. When history aligns with His Story, we celebrate the strides that are made because we understand God’s timing is perfect. But it is with a resounding acknowledgement that none of this is man-made, all of the glory belongs to God!!