Rev. Dr. Bob Williams Receives Council of Bishops’ Prestigious Ecumenical Award
September 21, 2022
Washington, DC: - The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has awarded the Rev. Dr. Robert Williams with the Bishops’ Ecumenical Award for his contributions to the unity of the universal church of Jesus Christ. The award was originally scheduled to be presented at the 2020 General Conference but was postponed due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
COB President Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, COB Ecumenical Officer Bishop Sally Dyck and COB Executive Secretary Bishop Bruce R. Ough made the presentation during a morning worship service at the United Methodist Church Building on Capitol Hill on September 15.
The Ecumenical Award is given at every General Conference to a person or persons who have shown exemplary leadership in the fields of ecumenicity and/or interreligious relationship building on behalf of The United Methodist Church. It is presented in order to signal the ongoing desire of the church to unite diverse voices in proclaiming our faithfulness in a challenging world environment. Specifically, it signals the foundational desire of The United Methodist Church to recognize, as stated in our Book of Discipline, to live as “a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ” (¶4). Recent past recipients have included Ms. Clare Chapman, Rev. John McCullough, Dr. Diana Eck and Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett.
Rev. Dr. Williams is a retired elder from the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. He received the Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1973. His doctoral studies at Drew University allowed him to return to his love of church history, as he studied and defended his dissertation on the role of African Americans in New Jersey in the 1800’s. He was ordained an elder in The United Methodist Church in 1974 and taught Methodist courses at Princeton Seminary for years.
Dr. Williams served for nine years as the General Secretary of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History at Drew University, during which time he also worked closely with the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. Dr. Williams has served on dialogue teams and offered research on ecumenical topics. He has continued to serve as an ecumenical dialogue team member, and in 2019 he offered the historic overview of the relationship between the Methodist Church in Britain and The UMC to a full Wesley’s Chapel in London.
In presenting the award to Dr. Williams and his wife Renee, Bishop Bickerton noted: “We come together on this occasion to enter into that kind of celebration as we honor the way the Reverend Doctor Robert Williams has allowed God’s Spirit to work in and through him in his service to the Church Universal.”
Bishop Dyck added: “Rev. Dr. Robert Williams was the person selected by our Council of Bishops to receive this prestigious award at the 2020 General Conference. Since that gathering has been necessarily postponed, we join together now for this celebration.”
In response, Dr. Williams who has been involved with ecumenical work since 1972 said: “I remember with gratitude those of sacred memory, who placed me in positions of trust and nurtured me in this work, including Robert Huston (former General Secretary of GCCUIC), Jeanne Audrey Powers (former Associate General Secretary of GCCUIC), and Gerald Moede (former General Secretary of the Consultation on Church Union). I remember colleagues who gifted me with their wisdom. I especially give thanks to Renee, my wife, who provided care for children, aging parents, and for me which allowed me to be involved in and to travel for this work.”
He added: “Our church dividing debates today call for a renewed commitment to the prayer of Jesus, the sermons of John Wesley, and the hymns of Charles Wesley. It feels hollow to get recognized for working on unity when United Methodists are splintering and we question our ecumenical commitments.”
In closing Bishop Ough called on the Holy Spirit for guidance. “Go now in peace, holding the witness of the power of unity in your hearts. Remember “unity is not an option; it is a gift to be received and expressed” (¶ 105). And, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications - Council of Bishops