Davis: 30 years in the pulpit is worth a celebration

The Rev. Felix G. Williams III, who is a special education teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary, will be honored this weekend for his 30 years guiding Mount Calvary Baptist Church.
The Rev. Felix G. Williams III, who is a special education teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary, will be honored this weekend for his 30 years guiding Mount Calvary Baptist Church.

Often there is something parents can recall that hinted at what their children would later become professionally.

For the parents of the Rev. Felix G. Williams III, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church for 30 years, there was nothing. Zip. Nada.

"Never had an inkling," said his father Felix G. Williams Jr.

After a bit of prodding, Geraldine Williams recalled how her son, at an early age, would play the piano while his two older sisters would sing, joined by the howls of the family dog, Puffy.

"He was the preacher, and they were the choir," Geraldine Williams said. "Still it never occurred to me he would be a preacher."

Eventually it occurred to Williams III, leading him to answer the call to the ministry at age 19 while he was a student on a football scholarship at Morehead State University.

Williams approached his mentor and pastor, the Rev. Reggie H. Johnson of Main Street Baptist Church, several times, but Johnson would discourage him, Williams said, telling him it was not a vocation to enter into lightly.

And it hasn't been.

Though he wanted to minister in the inner city — and did so for three years in St. Louis — when members of Mount Calvary Baptist Church called him to be their minister, he accepted.

Mount Calvary sits on land on Todds Road that once was set aside for freed blacks to purchase. The settlement was called Price town and closely aligned with nearby hamlets of Nihizertown and Centerville.

Together, according to information from the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database at the University of Kentucky Libraries, the hamlets boasted a population of 105 people, two-thirds of whom were black.

But no matter how you map it, Mount Calvary is not inner city.

"No, it is not," Williams said laughing. "It's polar opposites. That was not my destiny. We are town and country. I believe in my heart God wanted me here to build this church. I'm just beginning to see that after 30 years."

Williams has had opportunities to go to bigger churches in bigger cities with a bigger salary, but he's turned them down.

Williams, who is also a special education teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary School, said teaching has "made my ministry sensitive to the needs of people. I get more done working full-time at both places than some do at one place."

But two vocations can take time away from family. Williams and his first wife divorced shortly after he moved back here from St. Louis. And soon after that, his ex-wife, the mother of his two daughters, developed multiple sclerosis, and he became the primary parent to the young girls.

"He struggled," said Sha-Ron Garrett, William's younger daughter. "He used to put my hair up in balls on top of my head, but at least he tried to comb it."

"We just had to learn this is the job God has put him in," she said. "We had to learn we had to share our Dad so he could do the work of the Lord."

During that time, he also earned a doctorate from United Theological Seminary in Dayton.

"He was in school, and he worked full-time and he was a pastor," said Marseya Williams, his older daughter. "Still he made time for his family. He is my hero, and he is my pastor as well. We are thick as thieves."

Twenty years ago, after being single for eight years, he married Nizida Williams and they have a son, Jordan.

This weekend the church will celebrate Williams' tenure at Mount Calvary with a banquet Friday and services at 8:30 and 10:45 a.m. Sunday led by the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr. of historic Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Though three decades is a long time to minister to the same flock, Williams is not the longest tenure in Lexington. The Rev. T.H. Peeples has been pastor of Historic Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church for 32 years.

Still, Williams' accomplishment is significant. The 500-member church — which has grown from 43 members when Williams arrived — has bought land on Todds Road to build a new, larger church.

"Our philosophy is that we may grow much larger than we are, but the warmness of family and the love and the one-on-one has to remain the same," he said. "If we ever change, that will be the time for me to leave."