Members of Seattle’s Mount Zion Baptist Church unsuccessfully tried to oust its pastor. But he resigned anyway Sunday, leaving one of the most prominent churches in the city looking to regain its footing — again.
After nine often rocky years at the helm of Mount Zion Baptist Church, the Rev. Aaron Williams is stepping down.
His departure from the storied Central District church, a fixture in Seattle’s African-American life for more than 125 years, follows an attempt to oust him that faltered but seems to have been a last straw.
It leaves Mount Zion — which went through a traumatic split in 2005 — once again looking to regain its footing, at a time that is challenging for many of Seattle’s historically African-American churches.
People who attended Mount Zion on Sunday were not expecting to hear Williams announce his resignation, said the Rev. LaVerne Hall, who was there. When he did, she said, “it was just kind of an emotional time.”
Trouble, however, had been brewing.
On July 21, some church leaders prompted a vote over the 49-year-old pastor’s leadership. Such votes had happened before, and Williams had survived. But this time, those at the church that day overwhelmingly called for Williams to go.
“I must say I am deeply hurt,” Williams wrote in an email to members afterward. He also said the vote was improper. According to the church’s constitution, such a vote is supposed to be announced well in advance, but this one was sprung on the congregation.
“I was ambushed,” Williams wrote in the email.
He urged members to attend a second meeting on the matter in August. Those who came voted to reject the earlier vote.
Williams, however, had apparently had enough. He could not be reached for comment.
Harry Bailey, a former interim Seattle police chief who heads Mount Zion’s board of trustees, declined to speak about Williams’ resignation or the future of the church, saying the pastor would be the one to talk to.
Two years ago, when Mount Zion was celebrating its 125th anniversary, Williams described the church as being in a “good place.”
Having arrived in 2008 from Texas, where he headed a church’s senior and young-adult ministries, Williams had to learn the local scene, he acknowledged. And Mount Zion’s membership had dwindled to about 1,000 from its heyday of 2,700.
That was in large part due to the 2005 split, which occurred when the charismatic pastor at the time, the Rev. Leslie Braxton, left to start a new church in South King County. That is where gentrification pushed many African Americans who once lived in the Central District.
SOURCE: Nina Shapiro