Williams Institutional Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Williams Institutional C.M.E. Church has been a part of the history of Harlem for more than a quarter of a century. Founded by the Late Reverend William Yancey Bell, the church had its formal opening on October 5, 1919 in a small rented room of the Lafayette Theater. There were about 40 people who attended the opening, 12 of whom enrolled as members after Presiding Elder Denson preached the first sermon. Soon the budding congregation outgrew the small rented room and on January 20, 1920, still under the leadership of Reverend Bell, the congregation moved to the new home, located at 7th Avenue and 131st Street, across from the Lafayette Theater. Reverend Bell continued pastoring Williams Institutional C.M.E. Church until 1928. Upon his departure, the congregation numbered more than 1,200 people.
Under the leadership of Reverend L. S. White, in 1950, urban renewal and the increasing membership of Williams Institutional forced the church to find a new site for worship. This growth, searching, and movement led the church back to its original home, the old Lafayette Theater. The two adjoining commercial buildings also became the property of the church. The founder, now -- Bishop William Yancey Bell, having been elected to the Episcopacy in 1938 – was at this time Presiding Prelate of the Seventh Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and was much involved in the relocation of the thriving congregation. With the assistance of Dr. Channing E. Tobias, Associate Pastor, and Dr. Captolia Dent Newburn, Minister of Music and Christian Education, Reverend White led the church in accomplishing many outstanding achievements.
The church has continued to minister to the people in the Harlem community. Of note, Reverend Joseph C. Coles, who served as pastor from 1963-1974, was elected to the Episcopacy of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1974.
Rev. Dr. Julius C. Clay was appointed pastor in July, 2006. During his tenure, a community development corporation (CDC) entitled, The Eagle’s Nest Alliance, was organized. The purpose of the CDC is to develop ministries to meet the needs of the Harlem community. Currently, a computer ministry has been established to train community members on the basics of computer technology and software usage, and a Worldwide International Community Partners Program has been developed to conduct outreach to international visitors who visit the church throughout the year. As part of the intrinsic church ministry, Pastor Clay teaches a community Bible Study, held each Tuesday, and Rev. Cassandra Perry teaches a Bible Study, held each Sunday. Orientation classes have been conducted for members, classes on the topic of Spiritual Gifts have been conducted for members, and other classes for members have been offered. In addition, a new choir, the Renaissance Choir, has been established.
Williams Institutional C.M.E. Church will engages engaging in a church development venture with BRP Development and Construction in which 80+ units of housing will be built along with a new church edifice, educational facilities, offices, and other development space at no cost to the members. This project also will include renovation to portions of the church’s parsonage. God is doing a great work on the hearts of the members of Williams Institutional as well as to the physical property sites of the church. Williams Institutional C.M.E. Church is poised as an essential church for greater service to the Harlem community in the 21st Century and beyond.