Gentle church bishop’s death leaves congregations mourning

Bishop Harold Ivory Williams

Bishop Harold Ivory Williams

RALEIGH, N.C. – Bishop Harold Ivory Williams, who led Mount Calvary Holy Church in Winston-Salem for 28 years while also leading the denomination to national and international growth, died Friday evening at the age of 93, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Those who knew and worked with him said he was a gentle with a strong faith, someone who had the gift of developing leadership in others as well.

His friends knew that his health had declined but were still shocked and saddened at his passing.

“His presence and wisdom have been a support throughout my adult life, said Bishop Tejado Hanchell, the current senior pastor of Mount Calvary. “He is a much-beloved figure. It leaves a gaping hole in my life. He has been a rock that I have always had.”

Williams was born in 1921 in Denton, Md. He spent his early life in Baltimore, and led churches in Baltimore and in Washington before accepting the role as pastor of Mount Calvary here.

Williams had worked as a piano tuner in Baltimore and kept that job in those early years while traveling constantly back and forth to Winston-Salem. Elder Catherine France, a lifelong member of Mount Calvary here, said Williams drove to Winston-Salem not only for Sunday services but for mid-week bible study too.

“He would come down and live in one of the homes of our members,” she said. “That was a lot of driving, but he would make the trip because he was concerned about the people of God.”

Williams eventually married Shirley Caesar and moved to Durham, still commuting to Winston-Salem. Caesar, a noted gospel singer who has won many Grammy awards, is known in gospel music circles as the “First Lady of Gospel Music.” In retirement, Williams and Caesar led Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, where the funeral will be held Saturday after a celebration of Williams’ life on Friday.

Williams was the successor to Bishop Brumfield Johnson, who founded both the Winston-Salem church and the denomination, which is called Mount Calvary Holy Church of America. Shortly before he died in 1972, Johnson designated Williams to be his successor.

Williams led the local church until 2000 and continued to lead the national church until his retirement in 2008, Hanchell said.

“He was presiding bishop for 36 years, and for all those years he was very faithfully serving the Winston-Salem community all the while fulfilling his national duties.”

Under Williams, the denomination founded churches in places as far away as London, the Caribbean and in various parts of Africa, as well as in other American states, particularly California. Hanchell said the denomination has some 20,000 members in about 100 congregations.

“He was a great leader and one of his greatest strengths was empowering other leaders,” Hanchell said. “He was not someone who tried to lord it over others. He was very mild-mannered and soft-spoken, and had great wisdom and great wit. He could quote any scripture from memory. But he also had a great sense of humor and loved to share light stories with those who were around him.”

In retirement, Williams held the office of patriarch of the national church.

Percy Payne Jr., the chairman of the deacon board at the church here, said that Williams could be stern and gentle at the same time. He remembered how one time when performing a marriage, the bishop added a little comment before asking the bride and groom if they were ready to exchange their vows:

“He said, ‘Before you say ‘I do,’ make sure you can,’ ” Payne recalled.

Payne remembered another time that he apologized to Williams for simply thinking an angry thought about him during a conversation. That’s how much he respected Williams, he said.

“Even though we knew he was sick, no matter how much we prepare, my reaction was shock hearing that he was gone,” Payne said. “I broke down, but I know that he is in a much better place.”

Funeral arrangements

Services will be Friday and Saturday in Raleigh at Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church, located at 3100 Sanderford Road. On Friday, the body will lie in state from noon to 6 p.m., and there will be a celebration of his life with tributes and music from 7 to 9 p.m. A viewing of the body will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by the funeral at 11 a.m. There will be a procession from the church to a nearby cemetery for burial.

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