Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister, and this Friday we are pleased to introduce Avis Williams.
Avis, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My ministry journey has taken me from the Covington, Georgia area to the rural Lake Oconee areas in Greene and Putnam Counties. I preached my first public sermon on February 8, 2003 and was licensed on May 30, 2004 at the Historic Bethlehem Baptist Church in Covington, which was then pastored by Rev. Hezekiah Benton, Jr. Prior to answering my calling, I served at Bethlehem as Sunday School superintendent, church historian, and minister of Christian education.
I entered the Master of Divinity Program at Candler School of Theology in 2005. While at Candler, I was an active member of the Baptist Student Alliance, which was then under the visionary leadership of David Key, who encouraged me to pursue what God was calling me to do in church leadership. I felt that my calling was to serve and be with God’s people in community. While at Candler, I started a church in the Covington area: Immanuel Progressive Baptist Church. The church met on Sunday evenings and became immersed in ministry to those behind prison walls who needed assistance with their legal appeals. We are still working on an appeal case and hope that it will result in exoneration and release for a young man imprisoned for the past eleven years.
In 2007, Professor Key, the founding pastor at Lake Oconee Community Church, invited me to be an intern at his church for a semester. The Lake Oconee Community Church membership comes primarily from the gated community at Lake Oconee. The Greene and Putnam County communities surrounding Lake Oconee are some of the poorest communities in the state. My internship turned into a ten-plus year opportunity. I worked as pastor of community transformation for the church from June 2007 until January of 2018. I now work for the Putnam County Charter School System as their community liaison. I have the privilege of working with students, school staff, families, and community groups to service their needs.
What are your greatest joys in ministry?
My greatest sources of joy in ministry are the opportunities that God has given me to serve God’s people in community. My mother and grandmother were great influences on my life, modeling service. My mother is a retired teacher, and my grandmother has passed away.
I find joy in opportunities to preach and teach God’s Word in local churches and in the community. In 2007, I started a weekly Bible study in Greensboro called the Hour of Power. The Bible study grew from three folks to sometimes thirty or forty people studying God’s word weekly and sharing food. I work with loving, caring, kingdom servants who assist me in meeting the needs of community citizens. In 2010, I helped start the Youth Academy, which became known in 2011 as the Youth Alliance, which was a partnership between Lake OConee Community Church, Greene County Schools, Putnam County Charter School System, and the Greensboro Housing Authority. We provided cultural, historical, and educational enrichment for children ages six to twelve. The highlight of Youth Alliance was the three-to-four week summer program, filled with field trips and daily learning opportunities. The Youth Alliance also provided opportunities for affluent, local citizens to share their career knowledge and passion with students and their families. Both groups learned with and from each other. Our first Youth Alliance students graduated from high school in 2018. Church and community members have mentored and supported our students throughout the years. Almost twenty students are now enrolled in college or technical school. I also have had the opportunity of working with the Greensboro Elementary School to start a Garden Club with the students. I am so grateful to the Lord for the opportunities given to me to see and be a part of social justice ministries.
Two additional joys were a trip to the Holy Land, where I traveled in 2009 with a group of pastors and saw many of the places that I study and preach about and the completion of my Doctor of Ministry degree at Candler. I graduated this past May.
What have been some of your greatest challenges in ministry?
Some of the greatest challenges that I’ve encountered in ministry center around being female and Baptist. I’ve had persons question whether God calls women to preach and how women can lead men. I was ordained a year before I entered the Master of Divinity program, but even today many churches resist calling me and other female clergy “Reverend.” Instead we are often called Minister “Last Name” while men, whether they are ordained or not, are called Reverend “Last Name.”
I’ve also encountered some prejudice, both based on race and gender, while working in the lake country area. How do I handle these things? I remember that the Lord called me to work in the kingdom vineyard, ministering, teaching with other brothers and sisters, doing this while modeling the love of Christ. Professor Key’s initial challenge was that he wanted church members to see God’s hand move in transforming the community. I think that transformation is happening in the community through ministry. What a humbling opportunity it is to be called by the Lord to active ministry with the power of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding me! I count it as a blessing and pray that the challenges have and are making me stronger in my faith. I’ve also had the privilege of seeing women in ministry in our New Era Baptist State Convention. The Lord has also given me the opportunity to study and interact with women who are not ashamed to proclaim God’s Word and actively work in their own communities.
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
The best ministry advice that I have received is twofold. First I received life advice from my late grandmother, Mrs. Maggie Mae Williams, who was affectionately called “Miss B”, and second, I received pastoral advice from my former pastor, Rev. Benton. Miss B’s comments came in lessons as I was growing up. She told me that I must love everybody because we are all God’s children. She also taught me that one must always pray and seek God for counsel, understanding, and guidance. Did she know that I would one day be a preacher? Maybe she did!
Rev. Benton told me many years later that I must love all of God’s children, pray for them, and seek to serve wherever God calls me to. He shared with me that Jesus is the model of obedient sacrificial ministry and that’s what we are called to do. I pray that my life in ministry is a model of loving and serving the people of God, wherever the Lord calls and sends me.