ROCK ISLAND -- Heaven's visible from where he sits.
The Rev. Joseph D. Williamson III will celebrate his 20th anniversary at Rock Island's Second Baptist Church, 919 6th Ave., on Sunday.
Featured guest speakers include the Rev. Bankole Akinbinu, pastor at Baptist Grove Church in Raleigh, N.C., at 8 and 10:45 a.m. services; and the Rev. Willie E. Jones, pastor at Peoples Missionary Baptist Church, Rock Island, at 3 p.m.
"It has been an awesome journey," Rev. Williamson said. "It's been life-fulfilling. I've met and ministered with some outstanding people.
"I feel this church has gone through its childhood, its youth, its adolescence, and has now reached a maturity of spirit," he said. "I've been blessed and it's been better than anything in my wildest dreams."
He remembers being so excited 20 years ago when he was called to Second Baptist, "that I even forgot to ask them how much I was going to be paid," he said. "I truly felt it was God's calling in my life to be here in this church."
And Rev. Williamson, 58, said he still feels the same."If I can make it until I'm 80, I'll be happy. You could say I can see heaven from here."
He recalled the first time he marched into the building to preach, telling flag bearers to be careful not to poke anyone's eye out. But the next thing he felt was getting accidentally smacked in the back of his head by a flag.
Rev. Williamson remembers once singing the hymn "Blessed Assurance" so badly that it brought tears to the eyes of his wife, Robbie Williamson, for all the wrong reasons, he said.
He also remembers how she had to commute 600 miles a week for 2 1/2 years to the St. Louis area for her job at a Missouri Veterans Home kitchen.
Mrs. Williamson, referred to as the church's "First Lady," also will be honored during the celebration.
"It's amazing how the generation that were babies when I started are now going off to college, and soon will be turning to me to bless their marriages and the births of their children," Rev. Williamson said.
Increasing college scholarship amounts from $25 when he started 20 years ago to $1,750 now, was among church accomplishments he noted.
Overseeing the 2003 construction of the Family Life Center, creating a Christian educational institutional ministry and starting an Outreach Music Academy are other high points, he said.
Other accomplishments listed on a biography include a two-van ministry, adding an 8 a.m. worship service, hosting a fall revival and institute and launching an audio-visual ministry.
A more recent "claim to fame" he's proud of was a 2013 barbecue contest win at the church, thanks to the help of his family, the "assistant cooks." Contest participants included restaurant owners and professional chefs, making the win extra special.
"I just wish I could have been a more gracious winner," Rev. Williamson said jokingly.
Other titles he treasures include "Wood River District moderator" and "Baptist General State of Illinois third vice president," he said.
Rev. Williamson looks forward to burning the mortgage for the Family Life Center in a couple of years, then turning his attention to possibly renovating the sanctuary and improving the church parking lot area, all while keeping his eyes on heaven.
The Rev. Joseph D. Williamson III Address: Rock Island. Birth date: Oct. 16, 1954. Education: Lincoln High School, East St. Louis; bachelor's degree in political science from Illinois State University, Normal; law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas; Eden Theological Seminary, Webster Grove, Mo., ordained in 1993 at St. Paul Baptist Church, East St. Louis, and accepted the call to Second Baptist Church in Rock Island on Aug. 21, 1993. Hometown: East St. Louis, Ill. Family: Wife, Robbie Williamson; sons, Joseph D. Williamson IV, and Charles Williamson; and a grandson. Favorite Scripture: "Romans 8:28." Favorite Biblical character I'd like to meet: "Peter." Hobbies: Gardening. One thing I feel strongly about: "Christian education." I wish I knew how to: "Sing."