Home Pastors Pastor retires after half a century of building beloved Rockland community

Pastor retires after half a century of building beloved Rockland community


SPRING VALLEY — After half a century of leading First Baptist Church, Reverend Weldon McWilliams Jr. is ready to retire. But not before his church and community honor him on Sunday.

“Through First Baptist many county leaders have been trained, and he has trained many religious leaders in this county,” mentioned Vivian Street, chair of the church board.

The guest preacher at the Reverend Weldon McWilliams Jr. Pastoral Birthday Service will be his son, Reverend Weldon McWilliams IV, Senior Pastor of Christ Temple Baptist Church in Paterson, New Jersey. Young McWilliams had once served as First Baptist youth minister and associate minister.

A Sunday night gala honoring McWilliams is already sold out.

McWilliams Jr. led a church with a deep history – in 1902 the church began on land purchased for $50. In 1964, the sanctuary on what was then Hoyt Street opened to the growing flock. McWilliams took over the chair in 1972.

McWilliams’ tenure is full of expansion — church membership at one point reached 800 — and community connection. The small street on which the church is located – formerly Hoyt – was renamed Rev. Dr. Weldon McWilliams Jr. Way in November 2021.

The street name change reflected how McWilliams had shaped the church, the village of Spring Valley, and Rockland County.

Under his leadership, the church helped develop the Ministers’ Alliance, which is a collaboration between several houses of worship in the county.

“We were the first church to do this interdenominational stuff,” said Street, whose community work includes serving as past president and current second vice president of the Spring Valley NAACP and vice president of the council. of directors of the Finkelstein Memorial Library in Spring Valley.

McWilliams hosted the first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial service in the county. First Baptist continues to hold a service in King’s honor on the Sunday before the Federal holiday. Former Nyack NAACP president Frances Pratt said that, inspired by McWilliams’ idea, she established a holiday service at Nyack’s Pilgrim Baptist Church, which attracts hundreds of people of different faiths.

Frances Pratt, president of the Nyack branch of the NAACP, appears in a 2012 file photo.

“Let me tell you what this man did, he put Rockland County – black, white, all ethnicities – on the map,” Pratt said.

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“We would be remiss if we didn’t sing Reverend McWilliams’ praises,” Pratt said. “He made Rockland County a beloved community, based on the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Street recalled how McWilliams supported “out-of-the-box” efforts like poll-watching training and voter registration. When COVID shutdowns hit in March 2020, McWilliams would make sure to be in sanctuary every Sunday for live streaming services.

“We started this immediately,” Street said. Connected devotees. “Thank God for the support of our community who have continued to support our church financially during these terrible times.”

A legacy of helping those in need

First Baptist has a long history of helping those in need, running giving campaigns for the less fortunate, disaster relief efforts around the world, bereavement workshops, and SAT prep classes. McWilliams has established a Christian Education and Cultural Enrichment Center that has additional space for such activities.

Reverend Dr Weldon McWilliams in 2002.

His work on behalf of the community earned McWilliams Jr. Rockland the 2017 Buffalo Soldier Award, given annually to an outstanding black veteran. McWilliams served in the US Army from 1960 to 1962, stationed in Germany.

In December 2001, McWilliams was one of the first recipients of the Rockland County NAACP Image Award.

Pratt said McWilliams’ legacy and lessons should be honored. “If you build relationships, create coalitions and do positive things, positive things will happen.”

Street said amid the accolades, McWilliams has always been there for every devotee “through good and bad.”

“I can’t even imagine how many people he buried, he’s married,” Street said, “how many people he baptized their babies.”

If you are going to

A service: 11 a.m. Sunday, April 24 at First Baptist Church, 6 Rev. Dr. Weldon McWilliams Jr. Way, Spring Valley. Masks are mandatory.

Nancy Cutler writes at People & Policy. Click here for his latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland.