Suffolk loses an icon of ministry

Published 9:23 pm Tuesday, December 4, 2012

By Dennis Edwards

The Rev. Isaac E. Williams Sr. passed away early Sunday morning. For roughly 40 years, he was the pastor of First Baptist Church, Mahan Street.

The Rev. Williams was what some call a pastor’s pastor, the kind of servant/preacher all of us aspire to be. He was master of the understated ministry. He always offered good counsel without interfering in our lives.


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He never drew attention to himself, yet he took intimate care of First Baptist, Mahan, with a passionate love attending every detail of church life. He was always available, treated everybody the same, visited the sick, counseled the living, preached “Christ and him crucified” and showed us the power of our resurrected Lord every Sunday morning.

I’ll miss the fact of him. The knowledge that he was always there comforted me. Long talks after he had retired had a way of re-energizing my soul and the souls of everyone who called on him.

He was my father in the ministry, who baptized me at the age of 8, licensed me to preach, married, ordained and installed me in my first church and then dedicated my son. I am just one of a host of First Baptist members whose Iives he shaped culturally and theologically through worship, teaching and a sterling example.

Please understand we did not impress the Rev. Williams with what we had, but we could get his attention by demonstrating how close we were to the Father.

His son Isaac Jr. calls his dad and late mother Alma gifts from God. They taught him integrity, kindness respect, a love of church and savior. Was life always fair to the Rev. Williams? No. Was he always treated well? Not always. But the important question is whether he was faithful to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to his church and to his family. I believe he was.

Like many ministers, the Rev. Williams was more sensitive than anyone ever knew. Sometimes he was a down-home, flat-footed Baptist preacher, and then there were other times when he was more a Christian mystic, like Howard Thurman.

His genius in worship was formed by an open mind developed while earning bachelor’s degrees from Virginia Seminary and College and Virginia Union University, followed by a master’s degree in history from Hampton University and a Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

We will honor his life and say goodbye on Friday, during an 11 a.m. funeral at his home church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church on 900 Middlesex St in Norfolk.

But the sadness of that moment won’t overshadow our gratitude to God for sending us a Pastor who loved us through every stage of our lives. Thank you, Lord, for making Isaac Williams a preacher and for sending him our way.

 Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchorman, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at