With a tell it like it is approach and his love for the Lord, it is no surprise that Rev. Dr. Samuel W. Williams Jr. of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church on the North Side has withstood the test of time. In April, Rev. Williams, his family and church celebrated his 44th pastoral anniversary.
CLEO AND REV. SAMUEL W. WILLIAMS
“We’ve had some good times and some hard times, but one thing I can say is that with New Zion, I have never been under the pressures that some pastors go through. They take care of me,” said Rev. Williams.
The celebration included a youth dinner and concert, a weeklong worship service with various guests and an anniversary banquet at Trinity AMEZ Church in Sharenton. The theme was “44 Years of Vision, Obedience, Faithfulness & Dedication.”
“Pastor Williams has demonstrated an unyielding dedication to these ideals, and I applaud his many years of spiritual guidance…and I know he will continue to grow the congregation’s impact in the community for many years to come,” said Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak at the April 18 celebration service.
But the 79-year-old minister did not answer his call from the Lord immediately. After graduating high school at the age of 16, he worked as a coal miner in West Virginia. There was always a presence of the Lord, especially with a father and brother who were ministers.
“I did not follow it (the call) right away because I didn’t want to feel as if I was copying my father,” said Rev. Williams. He said he knew that something was missing, “I had a disconnect and a sense of incompleteness.” So he gave in and was ordained in 1955 under the direction of Rev. Henry Dubois at First Baptist Church in Summerlee, WV. After ministering at several churches, sometimes three at a time, he found his way, along with his wife Cleo and his six children, to New Zion in Pittsburgh in 1966.
“Reverend Williams is not only a pastor, but has been like a father and that is how he treats his ministry,” said Deaconess Shelley P. Lay, who has known him for more than 30 years. “Any good father will nurture their child, take care of it, make sure it’s fed and make sure it grows to be productive. And that’s how he treats his flock and ministry.”
Under the direction of Rev. Williams, the church has developed a Youth Outreach Ministry, an Adopt-A-Family Program, Family Support and Special Support Groups and more.
For 44 years he has not only been a pillar in the community as a soul saver, but as a business owner. He owned a restaurant and two family stores in the North Side area.
In the past the church played one of the largest roles in the Black community, but Rev. Williams feels that along the way something has gotten lost. “Before the NAACP, it was the Black Church that was used as a political arena and (as a place to get things done.) But now in many ways we’re failing and we’ve lost something,” he said. “We have allowed noise to take the place of music and hip-hop to take the place of spiritual praising.”
Reverend Williams said that as a community we have to stop expecting things and go back to putting the emphasis on God; live up to our expectations and greatness; and instill in children that respect for the church that was once passed along from generation to generation.
He also said there is too much emphasis placed on denominations. “Denomination does not excite me anymore. It does not have anything to do with salvation.”
While he is unsure of what the future holds, he said he hopes he will leave an impression that will have touched people. But until then he said he is “just having a good time.”