The Rev. J. S. Williams, 89, pastor at New Unity

August 14, 1998|By Rachel Elbaum | Rachel Elbaum,SUN STAFF

The Rev. James Samuel Williams, who during his 33-year tenure as pastor of New Unity Baptist Church established a food pantry and delivered food to the homeless, died Saturday of cancer at Long Green Center in Baltimore.

Mr. Williams, 89, of East Baltimore also helped increase the church membership from a handful of people to more than 500.

"He and his wife would canvass the neighborhood speaking to parents about sending their kids to Sunday school. He got the children to come to church, and then they got the mother, and then they got the father," said Thelma Russell of Baltimore, his stepdaughter and a New Unity member.

A tall man with a booming voice and gentle personality, Mr. Williams was pastor at New Unity from 1956 to 1989. In addition to his ministry, Mr. Williams operated an Atlantic Richfield service station in East Baltimore in the 1960s.

But religion was his passion. Mr. Williams practiced for a career in the ministry as a child.

"He would come home from church [on Sunday], get a soap box and make all the neighborhood kids listen as he would re-preach the sermon he heard in church," said Rachel Hollis of Baltimore, a friend since childhood.

Mr. Williams was elected pastor of the old Unity Baptist Church in 1956. The church moved to 22nd Street the next year, where it remained for 10 years. The church outgrew that facility and hTC moved to its current Polk Street location, where it took the name New Unity Baptist Church in 1967.

"He and his wife came to my house over 30 years ago telling me that the church was moving into my neighborhood [in East Baltimore] and that I should send my children to him," said Florence Thomas of East Baltimore, a New Unity member.

A Baltimore native who was orphaned at 13, Mr. Williams attended Frederick Douglass High School and later worked at a neighborhood bakery and the old Continental Can Co.

In 1939, he served as assistant minister at East Baltimore's Grace Memorial Baptist Church, where he also was superintendent of the Sunday school and leader for the children's prayer group.

Mr. Williams graduated from Maryland Baptist Center and School of Religion in 1941 and was assistant minister and superintendent of the Sunday school at Fountain Baptist Church in the 1940s. There, he also founded the Royal Ambassador Boy's Club.

While at New Unity, he performed many services in addition to his ministerial duties. Along with his work for the hungry and homeless, he helped give scholarships for church members to attend an interracial, interdenominational summer retreat in Keuka, N.Y., of which he was an organizer for more than 20 years.

Using his money, Mr. Williams often helped people pay their utility bills or a down payment on a home.

"When I was in the hospital, every day he came he left $100. It won me over to learn more about God. My children were in the church and that was all he knew about me at the time," said Teretha Patterson of Baltimore, another New Unity member.

Friends and church members recall Mr. Williams often saying, "You can't accomplish anything if you don't help others."

Services were held yesterday at New Unity Baptist Church.

In addition to his stepdaughter, he is survived by his wife, the former Rosie Davis, whom he married in 1982; a stepson, Gilbert Stevenson; and many nieces and nephews. All are of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 8/14/98

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