Fire Rips Through Harlem Church.
That was the horrifying headline of an August 2000 newspaper article about the inferno that engulfed a three-story house of worship on Manhattan Avenue and 116th Street in New York City. Just four months later, the congregation of Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church, led by Pastor Frank Blackshear, met in its current location at 2365 Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem.
This faith community prevailed 22 years ago with the same determination that launched the ministry in the early 1950s. Back then a small group of believers convened in a Harlem beauty salon to discuss what God was leading them to do. In August 1954, Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church opened its doors.
During that fiery trial in 2000, little did the congregants know in the midst of the close-knit church family there was a young man who God would raise up to represent a new generation of church leadership.
Christopher Lance Williams was on a journey to fulfill God’s purpose. A part of the preparation included earning not one, but four academic degrees at Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary. He holds an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, both in music earned at the College and a Master of Arts in biblical studies and Doctor of Ministry from the Seminary.
When he was just 16 years of age, the gifted young organist ventured outside of the church where he was raised in response to opportunities that aligned with his talent. He became director of music for several churches in the New York Tri-State area, including one Connecticut church where he served for 12 years. At Iona College, the Office of Mission and Ministry hired him as a lecturer and director of gospel music.
Beyond the comfort and confines of church walls, Chris Williams has also served his community since 2008 as a New York City police officer. In addition to being on the front lines as a servant leader, he has acquired several certifications in areas such as mental health first aid, alcohol and substance abuse prevention, developing mentoring programs, and identifying and reporting child abuse.
During the COVID pandemic, the Greater Zion Hill Baptist congregation stayed connected because of his efforts to get virtual worship services and Bible study online, a skill he shared with other ministry leaders. With his lovely wife, Amaranta Williams, they created Ministry That Matters. Through this outreach, they ensured that church members had personal protective equipment, distributed food to the hungry and developed COVID response plans.
Shortly after his graduation with the ATS D.Min. last year, he was one of nine candidates being considered by a church search committee to fill the vacant pastoral role at Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church. Votes were tallied and a historic moment unfolded. Rev. Dr. Christopher L. Williams, grandson of the late Pastor Frank Blackshear, was named Pastor-elect on May 21, 2021. According to his pastoral colleagues, he is the youngest Baptist pastor in the Village of Harlem. On May 22, 2022, a ceremony was conducted officially installing him as senior pastor.
Congratulations, Rev. Dr. Williams! Your alma mater salutes you for your tireless efforts serving the Church and your community.