This week tens of thousands of people visited Indiana for the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education.
The annual conference was sponsored by the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., the nation’s oldest and largest African-American led denomination.
Rev. James Williams, the city’s oldest living pastor from that denomination, was honored by friends and church members who continue to cherish his faithful service.
Last Sunday, New Baptist Church celebrated 103 years as a congregation, and recalled the tenure of Williams as a significant part of its history.
Williams became pastor of New Baptist Church in 1958, and served until his retirement in 2006.
“It was a blessing to be with New Baptist Church for over 47 years,” Williams said. “We were able to get everything done that we wanted.”
David L. Page is currently pastor of New Baptist Church, but Williams still holds the title of pastor emeritus, an honorary position for a minister who is retired but stays in close contact with his congregation.
At age 93, Williams is believed to be the oldest living Black Baptist minister in Indianapolis. He is followed by Rev. Melvin Girton, who has led Christ Missionary Baptist Church since 1958.
Williams is among few survivors of a historical generation of local ministers who made landmark contributions, mostly between the 1940s and 1990s. Ministers from that generation, such as Rev. Andrew J. Brown, Rev. F. Benjamin Davis, Rev. R.T. Andrews and Rev. Arthur Johnson, provided leadership to the city’s African-American community during times of great economic and social change, particularly at the height of the civil rights movement.
“We were able to make many accomplishments despite the challenges,” Williams said. “We really stood by each other.”
When it comes to his tenure at New Baptist Church, Williams is most proud of being able to strengthen the spiritual health of its members. In addition, he was able to establish several new ministries that increased opportunities not only for fellowship and service within the church, but also outreach to its near Westside neighborhood, where it has been located since 1908.
Williams remained committed to keeping the church in the area, which has historic significance, especially for the local African-American community. In 1969 when Interstate 65 was being built behind the church, Williams and the congregation voted to stay at the current location instead of moving.
New Baptist Church members continue to remain appreciative of Williams’ contributions.
Longtime member Anna Dillon, first met Williams and his late wife Melissa when she was a teenager, described the pastor as a “selfless, not self gratifying” man.
“He is known by all who really know him as a gentleman, and he is that indeed,” Dillon said. “He is also, however, a scholar, in that he brings God’s heart to God’s people while caring for his ‘sheep,’ as he often called those he pastored.”
Jean Carter, whose family helped establish New Baptist Church and has remained a member all her life, described Williams as a very encouraging minister with a strong commitment to sharing the message of Christ.
“Rev. Williams made time for everyone,” Carter said. “He was also a good listener, which meant he could understand you and put himself in your place.”
Deacon Irving and Lillie Washington recalled how Williams conducted outreach efforts on Monument Circle and at White Castle. They said he was always there for his congregation.
“It didn’t matter what was going on – a wedding, a funeral, a crisis, whatever – Pastor Williams always wanted to be a part of it,” said Irving, who joined the church in 1970 after leaving the military. “If we had a need all we had to do was ask. Many pastors aren’t that accessible today.”
Lillie agreed, adding, “Pastor Williams really set a high standard for other pastors to follow. “We would never hear anything negative about him, and he also seemed to have the respect of people from all walks of life.”
For more information about New Baptist Church, call (317) 635-5909.