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Founder of River of Life Church heading to California

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    Bishop John Williams speaks to congregation members at the River of Life Church in Toledo last Sunday.

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    Minister Stacey Williams, Bishop John Williams’ sister, holds the microphone toward the crowd during a send-off celebration honoring Bishop Williams at the River of Life Church.

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    Bishop Randall Parker, left, embraces Bishop Darrell Sheares, center, as Bishop John Williams, right, and others look on. A send-off celebration was held Sunday for Bishop Williams, who is moving to California.

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    Congregation members hold hands as they pray with music minister Mark Williams during a send-off celebration honoring Bishop John Williams.

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    From left to right, Pastor James Hawkins, Randall Bishop Randall Park, Bishop Darrell Sheares, and Bishop John Williams hold hands during a send-off celebration honoring Bishop Williams.

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    Evangelist Tracey Underwood raises her arms in the air during a send-off celebration honoring Bishop John Williams.

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    Rev. Perry Harris III raises his arm during worship at the send-off celebration honoring Bishop John Williams at the River of Life Church.

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After 17 years as the founder and lead pastor of River of Life Church, Bishop John Williams, 47, is moving to Redondo Beach, Calif., near Los Angeles, with thoughts of taking his ministry to greater prominence.

“I’m in ministry and I’ll be in ministry as long as God will have me,” Bishop Williams said. “I’m just shifting to a different area of ministry.”

In a send-off service at River of Life, 3611 Upton Ave., Sunday night, the bishop’s friends Bishop Randall Parker III of Canaan Manifested Word Church and Bishop Darrell Sheares, Sr., of Empowerment Temple Ministries, shared the sermon. Nearing the end, Bishop Sheares imagined a divine statement about Bishop Williams, that God would be asked, “What’s your greatest achievement in Bishop John Williams?” Bishop Sheares said, “Maybe it’s when you saved him and made him a lamb of God. No, wait, maybe it’s when you made him one of the greatest singers … No, maybe when you made him one of the greatest worshippers that anybody could ever come in contact with.

“No, wait, God. Maybe it’s when you blessed him in the birth of one of the greatest churches in this city, God, maybe one of the greatest preachers that you’ve ever called to preach. No, maybe when you consecrated him a bishop.” He posed the question again. “But what’s your greatest achievement for Bishop John Williams?” The bishop concluded, “God said, ‘My next one.’”

In California, rather than serving as a pastor, Bishop Williams will aim for three great achievements: guest-speaking across the nation and around the globe, singing gospel music as a national performer, and continuing to provide oversight to pastors under his watch as a bishop.

“I’ve been getting a lot of requests” to be a guest speaker, Bishop Williams said. “Right now there’s a door open for me for October to be in Bolivia, there’s another door open at the end of the year to go to [Ghana in] Africa, and there’s another door before the year’s up to go to Haiti.”

During Sunday’s service, he told the congregation that he had been invited to preach in London and in Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia.

He has been preaching by invitation since before he started River of Life, he said.

“When I go to the different places, all the needs are different, so it is a situation in which I spend time praying and just receiving from the Lord, and I give [as a message] what I strongly believe that God has given me for that house,” he said. Bishop Williams said that he writes all of his sermons rather than speaking extemporaneously.

As a gospel singer, “I’m going to be putting more emphasis on that,” he said. “I started my ministry off singing. I thought that’s what I was going to be doing the rest of my life. Early on, God blessed me to travel with two major tours. He also gave me opportunities to sing with many national artists. [Being in California] will allow me to place focus on more music, being a lead singer and solo artist and things of that nature.” He plans to be in the studio over the summer.

As a bishop, he is led by Apostle Thomas Wesley Weeks, Sr., of Wilmington, Del., the presiding prelate of New Destiny Fellowship International, and Bishop Williams has been a regional bishop.

In California, Bishop Williams plans to continue “to provide oversight to help pastors build their relationships with God, build strong relationships with them and their congregations, to give tools that will allow them to grow their ministries to reach their full destiny,” he said.

“It was and is an extremely, tremendously tough decision” to move to California, Bishop Williams said. 

“It took much prayer and fasting to come to peace with this. What helped me is knowing I strongly believe, with everything in me, that where I’m going is the place that God has for me. I believe that where we’re positioned, when God has a say in that, that's where the blessings will flow.”

Bishop Williams said that family connections to Los Angeles date to the 1950s. “My grandmother, aunts, and uncles, basically most of my family, migrated there way before I was born.”

The bishop was born in Toledo, then lived in Los Angeles as a child, and returned to Toledo but spent summers in Los Angeles. Besides receiving a business degree from the University of Toledo, he has a seminary education from Southern California Community Bible College.

After seminary, he started River of Life in Toledo.

He said that he has visited Los Angeles more than 20 times in his 17 years as River of Life’s pastor.

“I’ve come to the realization that there’s a divine connection with me and that area,” Bishop Williams said. “I’ve spent more than half of my life going back and forth there.”

“It’s a new adventure; I’m very, very, very excited for him,” said Minister Mark Williams, 48, the bishop’s brother, who is River of Life’s music minister and will remain in Toledo. 

“Really, my whole entire life, we've been in ministry together. I’ll miss being in ministry with him.”

Minister Williams staged a gospel concert for the bishop Monday, with “all my heavyweights,” he said. Among the performers on the bill were Chris Byrd & True Victory, Twinkie Clark, and Lisa Page-Brooks.

A search for the next pastor at River of Life is under way, with Bishop Williams and Apostle Weeks reviewing applications, “several from the city, several out of the city,” Bishop Williams said. “I want the right pastor. I have to be totally at peace with that.”

And after his move, Bishop Williams said, he will visit Toledo. 

“Here’s the thing, and I’ve been telling everyone this. My mother is here. [He laughed.] My family’s here and River of Life is here, so I already know I will be here quite often.”

Contact TK Barger at tkbarger@theblade.com, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.

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