I Am United Methodist: The Rev. Wendell E. Williams
The Rev. Wendell E. Williams, Retired, Mauston, Wisconsin
When the Rev. Wendell E. Williams graduated from high school in 1968, he also "graduated" from the church of his roots.
He walked away from organized religion and thought he could live the Christian life in his own strength without the fellowship of other disciples.
"In 1977, having married my high school sweetheart, completed college, worked as a high school teacher for five years, become the father of two beautiful daughters and purchased our first home," he said, "I found myself a very angry and disheartened young man."
The world, Williams realized, was not filling the spiritual hole in his heart. He recommitted his life to Christ, took Holy Communion for the first time in nine years and cried as he did so.
That led to what he called "a long journey of healing and spiritual growth." Two things helped reignite the call to pastoral ministry he had experienced – and ignored – in high school.
"The first was a very active role in Volunteers in Mission," he said. Beginning in 1989, he led work camps and became involved at the conference level. Then Williams became involved with Promise Keepers. "God was using me in such a way that the Spirit was able to touch others' hearts and lives."
In 1997, the pastor of Melrose (Wisconsin) United Methodist Church asked Williams if he had considered pastoral ministry.
"It was as if bells and whistles were going off," Williams said. "This is what God had been preparing me for. I began the inquiry process and thought I would go the licensed local pastor route." God had other plans. In March 1999, Williams attended a Walk to Emmaus weekend as a pilgrim.
"The Spirit laid on my heart that I was to give up the security of my teaching position, and I was to go to seminary so I could be ordained an elder," he said. After attending the University of Dubuque (Iowa) Theological Seminary, he was ordained as an elder in full connection in 2005 and continued to serve in pastoral ministry until retiring from Mauston United Methodist Church in Wisconsin on June 30.
For more than 11 years, his mission field was the local church.
"I see The United Methodist Church reemphasizing spiritual transformation and social justice as vital components of our denomination," he said. "We worship with our heads, hearts and hands as we live lives of piety and mercy."
Williams was part of a countywide group that formed a nonprofit agency to support, educate and advocate for individuals and families in transition. He and his wife, Susan, purchased and rehabbed a home with the help of more than 50 volunteers and 850 hours of labor to use as transitional housing for homeless families.
"Deepening the waters of faith" is important to Williams. "I remember a quote from John Wesley – something to the effect that the spiritual river is a mile wide but only an inch deep," he said. "Shallow rivers tend to meander all over the place and cannot carry a load effectively. A deep river has power to cut through most anything and can carry a heavy load. We need to deepen our faith in Jesus Christ as well as continuing to be socially active."
Barbara Dunlap-Berg served as general church content editor at United Methodist Communications. She is now retired and living in Nashville, Tennessee.
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"I am United Methodist" is a regular department of Interpreter featuring stories of individual laity and clergy eager to claim and share their United Methodist identity. To suggest a person to feature, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.