ST. PETERSBURG – The downtown Hilton ballroom was full of life Saturday night as friends, family and congregations members joined together to honor the lives and accomplishments of James and Johnnie L. Williams.
As overseers of All Nations Church of God by Faith EPC, 3000 4th St. S., for nearly 10 years, both James and Johnnie will step down from their esteemed position, passing the torch on to their daughter Rhunette Wells and their son-in-law Wayne Wells.
For decades the Williams family has dedicated their lives to others. Johnnie is well known for her contributions to women in ministry. Even at a young age, she was touched by the hand of God. The church began in 1947 in the home of her grandmother and later in a tent across the street.
“There was this passion,” said Chief Apostle Dr. S.D. James who believes she was called to the gospel.
Emulating her grandmother, Johnnie tirelessly worked for those who were less fortunate taking them under her wing of care. Her zeal and yearning for the ministry work would inspire others to follow in her wake.
Soon she was appointed the International Secretary of the First Independent Gospel Holy Church of God, her signature making the rounds all over the world.
“I still have my first license as an ordained minister signed by secretary Williams framed in my office in Jerusalem,” said Chief Apostle James who was called to give testimony on the impact that she has had not only locally, but also around the world. “Her signature reached far beyond St. Petersburg.”
From general assemblies to women’s conventions, her name was tacked on walls throughout Florida, Texas, Louisiana and even in Central America, all the while never neglecting her family.
In 1970 Johnnie went on to become an ordained minister and was an elder by 1972. Apostle Ada Davis remembers attending church and watching Johnnie’s quiet and soft-spoken nature.
“She has been an example to women in ministry,” said Davis who has always viewed Johnnie as kindhearted and eloquent in how she chooses to get her point across. She is “an example on how to persevere when things may be different.”
Pastor Deborah Hill of New Hope of Glory Ministries couldn’t agree more. She believes God places people in your path to help along the journey of life. Reflecting on her childhood, she didn’t always understand, but now as an adult she appreciates her experiences.
“My heart is stirring on the inside,” she said. Pastor Hill views Johnnie’s contribution to ministry and her faith as opening the doors for other women in a time when it wasn’t common to see women in the pulpit. “For every time a door was shut in your face, you got down on your knees and you kept going, we thank you.”
Her husband, fellow overseer Bishop James is also well loved in the community. Always known for his sweet voice and musical talents, he too found his calling in the church becoming an ordained deacon in 1977 and just two years later was appointed pastor of All Nations Church. By 1985 James had become an ordained minister with the position of elder and bishop coming in later years.
“Down through the years the light of her husband became the strength of the family,” said Chief Apostle James who swears he can still hear the harmonizing voices of the day. Integrity was the word used to describe the Bishop James’ life. Empowered to help others, their personal choices reflect their inner soul, both being of strong moral principles and consistently holy sanctified ethical standards.
“They have dealt with saints and sinners, friends and foes,” Chief Apostle James remarked, but through it all they were always gentle, never brutal, mean or rude to those in need. “Integrity made them men and women of God.”
Throughout the night, the Brothers of Harmony paid special musical tributes to the esteemed couple. Sister Angela Livingston read a poem entitled “What does it mean to honor thy father and thy mother?” in which she reflected on the definition of honor as well as what it means to have it, but also embarked on how to show it through unconditional love and respect for others.
“Our overseers have given their everything to each and every one of us in their own special way,” she said, “and they’ve done it with so much love.”
Pastor Martin Rainey took a moment to personally thank the Williams’ for their fellowship throughout the years. He fondly remembers bible studies every Sunday and during the summers on Freemont Terrace.
Even when he first started out as a pastor, the Williams’ would preach in Rainey’s church inspiring him to always strive to help others. “They have no idea how much of an impression and how much of an inspiration they have been in my life,” said Rainey who will always love and cherish the time he spent with the spiritual duo. “You’re a light in my life, I shall always remember you.”
Even though James and Johnnie are hanging up one of their many hats, they will always be part of the church and the community and will always have words of wisdom to impart on anyone who is willing to take a moment and listen.
“I’m caught up on that word love,” revealed Bishop James, his voice signifying his years of experience. A self-proclaimed lover, which got the crowd laughing, he believes the world’s problems can be solved by accepting God and choosing to follow his teachings. “Let’s hook up together and be what the Lord wants us to be.”
His loving wife echoed the same sentiments thanking everyone for dropping their heavily scheduled lives for a day and taking the time out to be with them.
“I love every one of you,” she said laughing, “and you can’t do nothing about it.”