My granddad, Pastor Sylvester Williams, didn’t always want to be a pastor. He really didn’t know what he was going to be when he was my age.
Williams had a different approach to life growing up.
“When I was growing up, I wanted to be a professional hobo,” he said.
A hobo is slang for a panhandler.
But life didn’t work out like that, and Williams works a steady job today as an investment analyst at First Citizens & Trust Co. in Raleigh.
That’s a long way from a panhandler.
Williams was born in 1955 and grew up in East Durham where his mom and dad were both pastors. His dad, Glenard Williams, who died in 1987, was the founder of the church Williams grew up in, St. James Holiness, near N.C. Central University on N.C. 55.
Williams’ mom, and my great grandma, Zella, is currently the pastor at St. James.
The youngest of the 12 children, granddad Williams’ grew up in the house directly next to their church.
He said they were considered poor growing up and it was tough for his parents to feed so many kids.
“At Christmastime my dad would buy one pack of toy soldiers and give each child one as a gift,” he said.
Even though, he was “content” as a child.
“My childhood was full of fun, with eight brothers and three sisters,” said Williams.
My granddad and I both are big sports fans today. Williams said, even though they didn’t have much money, as a child he and his siblings always had recreational basketball and football teams to participate in.
Williams was born near the start of the civil rights era and said back then, church services were different from those today. Church back then “was not just thirty minutes to an hour.”
“It lasted hours and hours at a time,” he said. Williams said that church was so long because it was all many community members had.
Back then there wasn’t any cable or satellite television. For many people, if they had a television, there were only a few channels, if that. The Williams family was actually one the first families in their neighborhood to have television.
“TV wasn’t important, it wasn’t a 24-hour thing like it is today,” Williams said.
He added that youth would often take part in church related games instead such as bible quizzes and team challenges.
Williams also said that his parents made all of their children sing in the church choir. Some songs he remembers singing are Satisfied With God and God Has a Way That is Sweet.
These days he doesn’t sing as much.
“Now I only sing when they let me,” he said.
Williams said his mother stressed telling the truth and integrity to her kids and congregation.
He still uses these lessons in his sermons and everyday life.
After Williams graduated from the “old” Hillside High, he attended three different colleges; DeVry University, where he studied electronics, NCCU and Durham Technical College, where he took accounting and business.
At Durham Tech he met his wife, my grandma, Barbara Tanner Williams, in a typing class.
They have been together ever since and now even preach together.
My granddad said he began his own ministry when he was age 30. He said his first sermon was “exciting” and it came from a testimony that he had of God healing him from an illness.
Even his son, my uncle Diya Williams, has followed in the family footsteps as a minister.
Diya Williams said growing up in a family of ministers and pastors he was taught how to be responsible for not only himself but for his two younger siblings.
He also said that he wanted to become a minister because of the example set by his family.
Growing up in the Williams household the children learned the value of family prayer, eating meals together and having a strong work ethic.
“My dad didn’t take a lot of sick days off, because he knew that he had a family to take care of,” Diya Williams said.
Diya Williams said that he learned from his dad that when giving sermons do not try to be entertaining but to inform others about God.
Even though I’m young, I have dreams of entering criminal justice or becoming a pastor of my own church.
As founder of The Assembly at Durham Christian Center, a local church that spreads the gospel around the world, I think my granddad is a devoted man of the faith.
He’s been a great example to me of not just a Christian leader, but a leader of all should be.
I would like to be the same.