Seeing her mentor sitting out in the sanctuary made Edith Werdebach nervous.
She was convinced, just by being there, William E. Jones Jr. was somehow testing her ability to administer baptism to the faithful.
“He was there to observe what I was going to do,” Werdebach recalled. “He never said he was coming.”
She didn’t want to disappoint Jones. He was the reverend doctor who affirmed her decision to enter the seminary.
“I shared with him my calling from the Lord,” Werdebach said. “He encouraged me to go on ahead. There were those who opposed women in the ministry. He did not display that attitude. He gave me some books besides the Bible.”
As she learned, Jones was there to offer pointers on how to administer the sacraments and prepare a sermon. Werdebach listened and absorbed the lessons of a man she came to respect as a friend. For many years, she was his director of Christian education at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Carlisle.
Described as a sincere and no-nonsense man, Jones would have said something if Werdebach made an error during the baptism ritual for the members of the New Life Missionary Baptist Church, the church she started. Werdebach stayed focused throughout and, when it was over, said goodbye to family and friends of the newly baptized. Jones, her mentor, was the last in line.
“He had a pleasant look on his face,” recalled Werdebach, herself a retired reverend doctor. “I asked him ‘If you were my professor, what would be my grade?’ He looked around and said in a soft pleasant voice, ‘I would give you an A plus.’”
Memories are all the people of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church have of their beloved pastor of 42 years. A Detriot native and Air Force veteran, Dr. William E. Jones Jr. died Dec. 3 at Polyclinic Hospital. He was 79.
His death came almost six months after his wife, the Rev. Dr. Delores Jones, passed away in June.
“We mourn them but at the same time we move forward,” Werdebach said. “The church must roll on.”
Rev. Fred Johnson is the new lead pastor.
Mae Wright has been a church member for 70-plus years. She remembers how William Jones would always call on her to meet with the families of the deceased to coordinate what they needed for the after-funeral reception held at Shiloh.
“He was a great pastor because he knew his job,” Wright said. “He stuck to his word. What he told us is what he meant.”
Church historian Ruth Hodge said William Jones came to Shiloh in Dec. 3, 1967, at a time when the church had declining membership, was not doing well financially and owed a mortgage. What’s more, Shiloh would celebrate its 100th anniversary in November 1968.
“He came to us well organized and very task-focused,” Hodge recalled. “He saw the needs of our church building.”
Described as intelligent and energetic, Jones used the anniversary as a rallying point for his congregation to not only pay off the mortgage before it was due, but draw in new members and remodel the church.
“He proceeded to lay out plans for his dream,” Hodge said.
During his tenure as lead pastor, the church established a library, a soup kitchen ministry, a Monday night prayer vigil, a Tuesday morning Bible study, a Thursday night chidren’s Bible club, a Saturday prayer breakfast and a children’s choir.
The church also purchased a new organ and began the practice of having special days set aside to celebrate different facets of church life. There is an Ushers Day, a Choir Day, a Scholarship and Graduation Day, just to name a few. During National African History Month, Hodge would bring in a nationally known speaker and a top-notch gospel choir.
Hodge added Shiloh also purchased four houses near the church. Two are being remodeled into space for church offices, board meetings, classrooms and activites, while two others will be made into a parking lot.
Aside from the church, Jones was active in the Carlisle community. He was one of the founding members of the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, along with the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Jones served as lead pastor from 1967 to 2005, Hodge said. His failing health prompted church leaders to name him senior pastor while his wife took over as lead pastor.
Jones continued to attend all business meetings and prayer sessions until 2008 when church leaders named him pastor emeritus because of his frail health. The congregation was still grieving the loss of Delores when her husband passed away.
“This will be closure to our grief because we know the two of them are together and because both gave the best of their years to God’s service at the church,” Hodge said.