Ray Williams thinks Red Bank is a great city. It’s a family-oriented community where people look out for each other. Some residents are a challenge to look out for, because they move in and out within a few months. Often when those people look for help, long-time residents say, “You out to go try the church on top of the hill. They love everybody.”
That church is One Accord Community, hidden among houses and apartments on Sweetland Drive. Rev. Williams founded the diverse church nine years ago with a vision “to show Christ through caring, because he cares about everybody.”
“We treat people like we’ve known them all their lives,” he says. “They aren’t outcasts. We were all outcasts at one point before we met Christ.”
Rev. Williams hopes One Accord will follow the model of early churches recorded in the Book of Acts. In those days, fellow believers shared their resources to take care of each other’s needs.
“If somebody’s in trouble, we’re going to pool our resources together and help them. This church has always been the type that will step up when there’s a tragedy to help anybody. They don’t have to go here. They don’t even have to know them. I’m so proud of the members of this church for doing that.”
Members maintain a food pantry and help with finance requests as they can. Every Wednesday, they bring in 60 children to their Awana program, planning to love them and teach them about Jesus Christ. Naturally, there are challenges.
“You have to be willing to go into some places where people don’t care about Jesus. Christ never gave up on us, so we can’t give up on those kids.”
Rev. Williams feels that commitment from Christ personally. Though he grew up in church, he walked away from it for about 20 years. During some of that time he sang in bars and almost died of alcohol poisoning. He remembers a night when, after many beers, he heard the Lord telling him, “I have plans for you, but if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to die.” Williams’ first son was only a year old at that time, and the thought moved him to tears. He didn’t want to drink himself to death, but when the night passed, so did any motivation to change his habits.
The next night, Rev. Williams almost died. He was rushed to a hospital with an enlarged heart. “When I was lying on that hospital bed, I couldn’t really tell you my name, but God was talking to me.”
He believes Jesus walked him out of that lifestyle, loved him back into the church, and called him to love others the same way.
Recently, a family asked him to talk to a man in a hospital for critical surgery, a man opposed to talking to pastors of any kind. Rev. Williams decided he would “treat him like an old buddy,” and they talked for 90 minutes. The man said, “You’re patient. Most pastors would have left after I said there is no god.”
Rev. Williams said, “A lot people thought there wasn’t a God before they met him.” They prayed before he left to the surprise of the family.
Rev. Williams has reached out to the man since then and hopes to see him in church soon.
“When I had the idea to plant this church,” he says, “I was tired of seeing church done the way the Pharisees did it—all about obeying the law. I think people like us because we don’t judge their lifestyle right off the bat.”
(Phil Wade is a local writer and native Chattanoogan. Find him on Twitter: @Brandywinebooks or on LinkedIn. He blogs regularly at Brandywinebooks.net)