Bishop Williams steps down as interim director of Ethnic Congregational Development

December 11, 2006

The Rt. Rev. Arthur B. Williams, Jr., retired bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Ohio, will begin the New Year by concluding his tenure as part-time interim director of Ethnic Congregational Development.


Williams, who served in the position for nearly four years, did so at the request of former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.

"I have always enjoyed working with [Presiding Bishop] Frank Griswold and came to know him especially when I was vice president of the House [of Bishops]," he said. "So when he expressed a concern about this unit of work and asked me to come and oversee it I didn't hesitate."

Ethnic Congregational Development, he said, had fallen on "hard times."

Williams had served in the Diocese of Ohio for 25 years, sixteen as bishop suffragan and nine as archdeacon. Prior to that, he served in the dioceses of Michigan and of Rhode Island, where he grew up and where he attended seminary.

The 2003 General Convention passed resolution C015, mandating the church to develop new and creative ways of welcoming and incorporating people of diverse ethnic backgrounds into the church. It recommended the retention of the Asian American Ministries, Black Ministries, Hispanic Ministries, and Native American Ministries desks of the Episcopal Church Center, holding advocacy and congregational development as equal responsibilities. It also said that these ministries should be given the budget and resources necessary to function as an integral part of the work of the church's work of evangelism.

Williams said his commitment to ministry in support of people of color in the Episcopal Church, coupled with the opportunity to make the unit more effective in serving the four constituencies, made the position even more appealing.

His charge was to recruit staff officers and support people for the various ethnic ministries while serving as their advocate.

"Before I made any appointments, I met with the organized groups of the four constituencies to come to know what their own vision of what the desk should be doing and what sort of person should fill those positions," he said. "I then approached them with equity and made sure that budgets were all the same while trying to listen to all four voices as I went about my work."

Four search committees were formed consisting of members of the constituencies, Vivian Harrison, human resources manager for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), and Williams, who served as chair.

"I tried to make it clear that the job of the missioner was not only about being accountable to their constituencies, but also to DFMS," said Williams. "I addressed it as a real opportunity to go back to basics and appoint people that I felt were committed to the work of the various desks," he said. "Each of the persons that I was able to bring into those positions was energetic and a visionary."

In retrospect, he said, he was able to put together people "who work very well together": the Rev. Angela Ifill, missioner for Black Ministries; the Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, missioner for Asian American Ministries; Janine Tinsley-Roe, missioner for Native American Ministries; and the Rev. Anthony Guillén, missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries.

Vergara said Williams' presence "calmed the waters of turbulence and uncertainty."

"By not being partial to any one group, he was able to be fair and treated us equally," said Guillén. "He fostered an environment that encouraged the individual ethnic ministers to work together as a team."

"He knew the extent of travel, the various connections and programmatic initiatives with which the ministries were involved and he made that known to all," Ifill said. "He convened meetings that brought the missioners together to share with one another and to share time in retreats for reflection and planning."

Ministry highlights

Williams said that each ministry has had an event that has left an indelible mark in his memory.

"'A Day of Recognition' [at the Washington National Cathedral] with the [former] Presiding Bishop, black Episcopalians, and the presidents and choirs of black colleges was a high point," he said. "It symbolized a new opening and relationship with DFMS and the black colleges."

The Hispanic Ministry conference at Kanuga "was a great conference emphasizing worship and music… Anthony [Guillén] and others organized liturgical and theological leaders, and people with very practical experience in developing Latino parishes," said Williams.

The Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Consultation was "an exciting meeting and great celebration" providing attendees with a sense of the "diversity in that group," he said.

"In this ministry, Fred comes at congregational development in a very natural way," said Williams. "It included a Eucharistic celebration with special music."

The Niobrara Convocation, an annual gathering in South Dakota of native Episcopal congregations, filled with food, music, fellowship and discussion, stood out in his mind as a Native American ministry highlight.

"Bishop Williams's respect of Indigenous culture, our issues, and our history in the church enabled him to interpret the needs of our ministry to others," said Tinsley-Roe. "He encouraged our faith for our individual missions to expand and grow by nurturing, feeding and watering the planting of our ministry as a gardener encourages a plant's roots to take hold."

Future of Ethnic Congregational Development

"I believe that Ethnic Congregational Development is central to the mission of the Episcopal Church," said Williams. "Look at the immigration of people coming from the West Indies and Asia, and Latinos and Hispanics becoming the largest racial minority. The Episcopal Church needs to be there to welcome them and help them recognize themselves in the church."

"The Office of Ethnic Congregational Development can provide the vision, leadership, and training necessary to assist the church with this task and to inspire the rest of the Church with stories of new life and growth," said Guillén.

Williams said the work of the ethnic ministries in congregational development and advocacy should continue and recommended to Executive Council at its November 2006 meeting that for the foreseeable future "the work of Ethnic Congregational Development not be organizationally combined with any other program unit at the Church Center."

"There is significant growth being experienced in congregations among people of color," said Ifill. "The work of Ethnic Ministries therefore, is not only important, it is integral to the ongoing work of the church."

As for Williams's successor, Lemler will appoint one of the missioners as director, effective January 15, 2007. In that capacity they will also continue as missioner of their particular constituency.

As for re-entering retirement, Williams said it will not find him resting.

He will be serving as Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Ohio with another retired bishop to help with confirmations and be supportive to Ohio's Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, Jr. In addition, Williams, along with his wife Lynette, will continue to lead Orderly Transition conferences, which are offered by the College of Bishops to assist bishops and their spouses planning for retirement. He is also on the faculty of CREDO [Clergy Reflection, Education, Discernment Opportunity].

"I think retirement is really an opportunity for new choices," he said. "And so in retirement, I'm doing what I choose to do."