Clergy Corner, April 26, 2019

Clergy Corner, April 26, 2019

In 1968, Springfield Southeast High's star senior catcher committed to playing baseball for the University of Illinois. A lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, U. PETE WILLIAMS dreamed of going pro some day and becoming the catcher for the Redbirds.

But before Williams was able to enroll, his mother suffered a stroke, and the young athlete returned to Springfield to care for her until her death.

Williams never played an inning for the Illini. In fact, to this day, he has never attended a UI baseball game.

"I put those things behind me," he says.

He believes God had other plans for him. He received a call to the ministry, and 17 years ago became pastor of Danville's Greater Shiloh Baptist Church.

The old catcher's mitt hangs on the wall of the pastor's garage, and close to 100 parishioners in Danville are thankful he chose a different calling.

Staff writer Tim Mitchell sat down with the 68-year-old minister, who talked about growing up on a Mississippi plantation, getting baptized in Lake Springfield, his model-train collection and more.

What are your earliest memories of church?

I grew up in church, but not necessarily as a Christian. We lived on a plantation in Glendora, Miss., and my parents took me to a Methodist church there.

We were sharecroppers. We grew vegetables and cotton. Even though I was very young, I still helped out with those working in the field.

My family moved from Mississippi to Springfield when I was six years old. When I was 11 or 12, I remember going to a revival in the New Hope Baptist Church in Springfield. I wasn't baptized until our family moved to Springfield, and I was literally baptized in Lake Springfield. My church didn't have a baptismal pool, so we used the lake.

It was summertime, and I remember the water was warm. The minister and deacons went into the lake with me. They led me out from the shore, and we kept going until the water was waist-deep, so they could baptize me.

What activities were you involved with in high school?

I was the catcher on the baseball team, and we lost probably more games than we won. I was a center on the football team, and I also played guard and tackle.

I sang tenor for the choir. We had a madrigal group at the high school that performed shows. I also sang in the a capella choir. I played the trombone in the band. While the school had a marching band, I never performed with them because I was always on the field in the football game.

Do you still have your trombone?

No. I play the guitar now. I took it up when I was 17 or 18.

I sang in several gospel quartets. One of the best known was a family group called the Jordanaires. I was the lead guitar player and lead singer. Later on, I played with the Gospel Messengers and led a group called Pete Williams and the Central Nightingales.

How did you meet your wife, Joan?

She is a retired teacher. She taught at Northridge and Southview. We were both students at Springfield Southeast High School.

I met her at her cousin's funeral. I thought she was a good-looking woman. We got married in July 1971, and we have three children and eight grandchildren.

How did you get the call to become a minister?

God took my guitar away. When my mother died, I had nothing to do with God. She served him and worshipped him, and she still died. And about that same time, the Jordanaires dissipated. I stopped going to church. Her funeral was the last time I went for a long time.

I had an automotive business and did body work. I stayed away from church for about three years. Suddenly, every time I tried to play my guitar, it would shock my hands, even when it wasn't plugged in. I couldn't even hold it.

One day, I told my wife I was going to return to church. I picked up my old guitar in my living room and started playing it. Boy, did I play it. I started crying like a baby. I returned to the Union Baptist Church in Springfield. When I arrived at the church to restore my membership with the parish, somehow these words came out of my mouth: "The Lord called me to preach." The words just came out of my mouth.

One of the ladies of the church told me she had known it all along that I would become a preacher. I enrolled at the Moody Bible Institute and studied to become a minister.

How did you end up at Greater Shiloh here in Danville?

God sent me here. I had no plans to come to Danville. I had good employment, and my wife was a school teacher. I originally had plans to be a pastor in Indiana.

You have to understand that I am a mechanic and never have trouble with my vehicle. But, on the way back from Indiana, the doors to my car suddenly started shaking. My wife was with me and said that if I took that job in Indiana, God couldn't use me.

When I got back home in Springfield, I got a call to put in my resume in Danville. So I put in my resume and was accepted as pastor here. And 17 years later, I am still here.

What do you do for fun?

My hobby is model trains. I collect Lionel trains and model railroads. I have some old ones and some new stuff. I have a setup in my house, and I run the trains every now and then. My Alaska engine is my favorite model train.

Have a favorite food?

I love Southern food: beans and buttermilk cornbread, gravy and biscuits.

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