Pastor Stuart Williams will be one of the featured speakers at this year’s Hugh C. Benner Preachers Conference. He speaks winsomely about the call to ministry and God’s provision even in the midst of pain and tragedy.

CPL: How did a native of South Africa land in a Church in Calgary, Alberta Canada?
My journey from Cape Town to Calgary began as a desire to prepare myself for pastoral ministry.

I was in my early twenties when I started to explore the possibility of studying abroad to prepare for pastoral ministry. This was nothing more than a dream at the time as I had no financial means to do so. Yet, the pull toward pastoral ministry intensified over time and the opportunity to prepare myself for ministry would arise through tragic circumstance.

It was during this season of discernment that both my parents and two younger siblings lost their lives in a motor vehicle accident. A suspected drunk driver drove into oncoming traffic as they were returning home from a Sunday evening worship service. Their death marked a significant transition in my life and would prove instrumental to me leaving South Africa to pursue theological education in Calgary. Today, I am father to three wonderful kids, and husband to my wife Ruthanne of eighteen years. Though I still desire to return to Cape Town, I now consider Calgary home.

CPL: How does your personal history impact and shape how you pastor and preach?
My past experiences of marginalization associated with growing up in racially segregated South Africa and the loss of family in a car accident have undoubtedly influenced my ministry as a pastor. While these experiences significantly influence my life, I can testify to the sustaining and transforming grace of God over the years to bring healing and hope to me and through me to those I serve as pastor.

While I approach preaching as the presentation of theological truth derived from a study of the biblical text; such truth must always first intersect with my lived experience. This intersection of life with truth is often given expression in the messages I preach when I draw upon my past experiences of loss and marginalization. Drawing from personal experiences in preaching can be challenging and the danger of making my story the Story is a reality I am aware of and guard against. I have however discovered, over several years of preaching, that the use of personal experiences in preaching can be beneficial to me as well as to the congregation. It benefits me because I am always asking how the truth of the sermon relates to my lived experience. This enables a personal connection with the text that is revealed when I preach. I believe that this enables the truth proclaimed to be made incarnate in the preacher, a quality that is essential to preaching with conviction and to enabling the congregation to see me as one who joins them in the hearing of the word.

I also draw upon my past experiences in pastoral counsel when doing so is appropriate. As life inevitably includes loss, I find my experience in this regard enables me to relate to people from all walks of life who have or are presently dealing with the pain of loss.

CPL: Tell us about the context and setting of Skyview Community Church. How would you describe your congregation and the community you serve?
Skyview was started in 1989 as a church plant designed to reach the non-Churched within the northwest quadrant of the city of Calgary. Over the years’ the church has gathered in multiple rental venues experiencing the joys and pains of relocating from one part of the city to another. A negative consequence of being a church in transition was that very little connection or investment of time or resources was made within the neighborhood within which the church was located. This reality prevailed when I arrived and was revealed by the absence of any community based ministry programs and people from within the neighborhood we worshipped in weekly within our congregation.

When I arrived at the church as pastor eight years ago it was following a difficult season when many had already left the church due to disappointment and conflict pertaining to pastoral change. Though it has taken a while for the church to recover, those who chose to remain are growing into a strong core of people committed to the mission of the local church within the city of Calgary.

Today, our vision for ministry extends beyond Sunday services and our church continues to grow by reflecting the racial and economic diversity of the people within our city. We consistently emphasize the present hope we have in Christ and are optimistic in our approach to ministry about what God can do in this life to reconcile people to Himself and to one another. At present, we are building our first worship facility in the Harvest Hills community and the project is on schedule to be completed by the summer of 2019. The Harvest Hills community reflects the growing diversity of the city of Calgary with many immigrant people moving in because of more affordable housing and rental options.

CPL: What do you believe are the biggest challenges that your people face as they strive to be faithful Christ followers? And how does this impact what you preach about?
Currently one of the more significant challenges our people face is how to live faithfully as followers of Jesus Christ in a city that is growing in diversity. Two years ago, our federal government made the decision to welcome forty thousand Syrian refugees and to relocate them throughout various cities within the country. While many Canadians supported the Canadian government’s decision others feared what this could mean for our national security, economic and religious life. Both views were expressed within our local church.

Overcoming fear of those unlike us and learning to see people as those whom Christ loved and died for, requires more than an ethic of tolerance which most Canadians are known for. I preach toward the implications of seeing ourselves first as followers of Jesus Christ, and challenge our people to resist having our cultural or national identities dictate our attitudes or responses to those unlike us. I consider the growing diversity within our communities as one of the significant challenges Skyview faces but also see in it one of the greatest opportunities we will have to reveal the hope of Christ. We are striving to be a church who reflects the diversity of our city while being united through our common faith in Jesus Christ.