Remembering Our Founder

Bishop Joseph D. Williams, Sr.


One cannot speak of the history of the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc. without reflecting upon the life and legacy of its founder, the late Bishop Joseph David Williams, Sr. For through his sacrifice and labor, the Progressive Church was established. Bishop Williams was born in Georgia on September 2, 1892. As a young adult, he moved to New York City to find work. In 1922, he heard the Word of God preached by the late Bishop R. C. Lawson and was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ at the Greater Refuge Temple on 133rd Street in New York. He then became a member of the Greater Refuge Temple (Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc.). He later met and married the former Bessie Friday.

Some years later, he relocated to Cleveland, OH and was called into the ministry in 1933. That same year, with only 15 members, he founded the Pilgrim Church of Christ at a prayer meeting in his home in Cleveland, OH. He led the small congregation in Cleveland faithfully and the Lord blessed the small church to grow as souls were saved by the preaching of the gospel. In March of 1944, he came to Columbia, SC at the request of his wife, Sister Bessie Williams, to pray for her niece, Sister Helen Washington. When he arrived in Columbia, he found Sister Washington bed-ridden and very ill. There, he had prayer with her and told her that he wanted her to get up the next morning and eat breakfast. When he returned the next day, Sister Washington was sitting up on the side of the bed eating breakfast. God had delivered her through prayer!

At that time, Bishop Williams took the opportunity to share with Sister Washington the gospel message of salvation through water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. As it was on the day of Pentecost, she gladly received the Word of God and agreed to submit to water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Bishop Williams inquired with several pastors about using their pool to perform the baptism. However, no pastor in the area would allow him use of a pool. As a result, Sister Washington was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in a bath tub, at her mother’s house on Read Street in Columbia. Eight days later, God filled her with the gift of the Holy Ghost. From then on, in the words of Bishop Williams, “God began to work signs and wonders in the city of Columbia.”

Bishop Williams returned to Cleveland, OH and continued his work with the Pilgrim Church of Christ. Having been raised in the south, he had always stated that he would never move back to the south again. However, the Lord had other plans for his life and began to move on his heart to relocate to Columbia, SC. As an established pastor in a growing church, that could not have been an easy decision to make. Yet, being obedient to the inspiration of the Lord, he spoke to his Presiding Bishop, the late Bishop R.C. Lawson and made him aware of his desire. Bishop Lawson gave Bishop Williams his blessings to resign his pastorate at the Pilgrim Church of Christ and move to Columbia, SC. In a short period of time, he sold his possessions and he and his with his wife moved to Columbia.

After arriving in Columbia, Bishop Williams lived in the home of his sister-in-law, the late Sister Carrie Brown. Bishop Williams held the first service in Columbia on June 8, 1944 in the home of the late Bishop and Sister Joel G. Washington. During this service, Sister Emma Preston, aunt of Sister Bessie Williams, was saved. It was a great transition for Bishop Williams to leave an established church and move to Columbia, SC to start from scratch. But he often stated that God had sent him to Columbia with “sealed orders” that would be revealed in due time. Bishop Williams, Sister Bessie and Sister Helen Washington spent many days walking the streets of Columbia and witnessing to all they encountered about God’s plan of salvation and inviting many to come out to services at the Progressive Church.

As the months passed, many came out to services and souls began to be saved. As the congregation grew, Sister Carrie Brown allowed Bishop Williams to hold service in an old building she owned, called the “hole in the wall.” Shortly after this time, Bishop Williams had plans to build a church for the growing congregation. Sister Carrie Brown donated land in the Taylors Community of Columbia and a small church was built there in 1945. A few months later, Bishop Williams invited his former pastor, Bishop R. C. Lawson, to come to Columbia to dedicate the church.

Bishop Williams often told the story of how, at that time, the Lord seemed to be sending in many souls to be saved. However, one night during a Bible Study as Bishop Williams preached the Word of God, 17 of the members of the church became offended at the Word of God and walked out of the church. This certainly must have dismayed the man of God, yet he continued to stand firm on the Word of God. He believed that God would send in a harvest. Shortly after that time, many souls were saved through the preaching of the gospel.

By observing the progress of the church in a casual conversation, Bishop Williams named the church, “Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc.” The church was later official chartered with the name. At that time, many of the saints did not have automobiles to drive to the little church in the Taylors Community in Columbia. Bishop Williams would drive his Ford sedan, making several trips, to pick up the saints for church services. Some had such a desire to be in service that they would ride in the trunk of the car when there was no room inside.

In early part of 1952, Bishop Williams found a rented church at 2217 Waverly Street, a more central location in Columbia. For a short period of time, services were held at the Waverly Street Church and at the church in Taylors. Later, He decided to move the church from the Taylors Community to Waverly Street. When the church at Waverly Street was first rented, it was in terrible condition. There was saw dust on the floor and the theater—style seats had many broken spaces and exposed nails. Some of the saints were embarrassed at the state of the building. However, the saints began to repair the building and took pride in their new place of worship. Bishop Williams and the saints were able to later purchase and completely renovate the Waverly Street Church a few years later.

Bishop Williams was a man who believed strongly in personal evangelism. During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, he took the opportunity to preach in many of the denominational churches in and around the Columbia area, sharing the true plan of salvation. As a result of his ministry, many came to the Progressive Church to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Many saints that were saved were so convicted and convinced by the Word of God that they would often ask Bishop Williams to come to their home towns to preach to family members and friends. Bishop Williams would readily accept their invitations and would travel all over the state of South Carolina sharing the plan of salvation with anyone who would provide a listening ear. As a result of this form of personal evangelism and witnessing in the late 1940s and 1950s, Progressive Churches were established in Killian, Mullins, Denmark, Lugoff, Bishopville, and Florence, SC.

Bishop Williams traveled to each of the newly founded Progressive Churches to help lay a strong foundation for the young congregations. When the church in Mullins was established, he traveled from Columbia to Mullins for three straight weeks, preaching nightly to help the young church grow. Because of the love and support of the saints, the Bishop would rarely travel alone. Often, several cars filled with saints would follow him wherever he preached. Even in the face of adversity and physical danger, his determination to see souls saved would not allow him to stop. One night in 1955, while he preached at the Progressive Church in Lugoff, SC, someone slashed the tires on his car and fired shots through the window of the church. For some, this would have been enough to make them stop. Yet, Bishop Williams continued with the work in Lugoff because he believed that souls in the area needed to be saved. On another occasion, as he preached at the Progressive Church in Mullins, SC a man entered the church with a shotgun, threatening to kill him. As the saints prayed, the man suddenly turned around and walked out of the church. Later that night, the same man was killed with his own gun in a fight.

One night in 1959, Bishop Williams traveled along with one of his young pastors, Elder Edward Smith, to pray for a sister who was ill in Blackville, SC. While traveling down the highway with Elder Smith driving, their car was hit head-on by a drunken driver. Bishop Williams sustained a broken leg and was taken back to the hospital in Columbia by an ambulance. His leg was placed in a cast for several weeks, in order to give him time to heal properly. While some pastors would have taken this time off to rest, Bishop Williams was not the ordinary pastor. Though he was unable to stand, he preached sitting down until his leg healed and the cast was removed.

Though Bishop Williams labored in each of the Progressive Churches, he spent most of his time in Columbia, SC, where he was pastor. His love for the saints in Columbia was as deep as their love for him. At a pastor’s appreciation service in the late 1950’s, the saints purchased a Chrysler Imperial for Bishop Williams. He could often be found at the church during the day sitting in his Chrysler counseling with the saints. He had an unfailing love for the people of God and would freely give of his money and time for the saints.

Bishop Williams also had a close bond with the youth of the church. He would often sit outside of the Columbia church on Saturday evenings to talk with the youth of the church and to watch them as they played sports. He also believed in training young men and in giving them opportunities to take on leadership roles in the church. Many young brothers were saved under his leadership and after a few years under his tutelage, they were sent to serve as pastors of the various churches around the state. Among those young men were: Joel G. Washington, Edward Smith, Henry J. Breakfield, Ernest Finkley, Herman Jackson, Calvin Jackson, Malon Pollock, Heyward Anderson, Thomas Douglas, and Joe Rutherford. Although these young men were sent out as pastors in their own right, they would often make their way back to the “headquarters church” in Columbia to get spiritual instruction from Bishop Williams during his weekly Friday evening Bible Class. As a pastor’s pastor, he demanded commitment, loyalty and dedication to the work of the Lord from all men who served in the ministry.

Bishop Williams was a man of great faith who believed in the power of prayer. Many saints were delivered from their afflictions and illnesses after he prayed for them. As he visited the saints in the hospital, he would often pray for the other sick persons there. Many would later come to the church to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. In the early 1950’s, there was a woman from Swansea, SC in the old Columbia Hospital who Bishop Williams prayed for. After prayer, the Lord healed her and she was able to leave the hospital and come to the church to be baptized. After being baptized she went home and became sick once again, and was unable to walk. Bishop Williams traveled, along with Sister Helen Washington and Sister Laura Ashe, to Swansea to pray for the sister. When he arrived at her home, she was seriously ill. He laid hands on the sister and prayed the prayer of faith. As he laid hands on her, the woman received the gift of the Holy Ghost and began to speak in other tongues. She also was able to get up out of bed and began to walk.

On another occasion, as Bishop Williams and other saints traveled to one of the Progressive Churches in South Carolina, his car broke down and would not start. After examining the mechanical parts of the engine to determine the problem, no quick resolution could be found. As others stood by in amazement, Bishop Williams took anointing oil out of his coat pocket. He anointed the car and prayed, asking the Lord to fix the problem. After praying, he cranked the vehicle and, miraculously, the car started running immediately. Bishop Williams believed that faith in action would produce divine results.

What some would deem a “long-winded” preacher, Bishop Williams would take his time to clearly explain and expound the Word of God when he preached. Many recall listening to Bishop Williams preach on a Sunday Morning until nearly 3:00 p.m. and on a Friday night Bible Class until midnight. Yet, no one became bored or disinterested because of their hunger for the Word of God. He would allow the saints to ask any question they desired during Bible Class and would always point them to a particular scripture in the Bible when giving an answer to their questions. Bishop Williams often taught the saints that, “if God will bless anything, He would bless His Word.” As a “no-nonsense” preacher, he believed in and preached the Word of God, without compromise. For those that did not want to live by and obey the Word of God, he would readily tell them that he would “rather have their room than their company.”

Worship services during the lifetime of Bishop Williams can be described as nothing less than “exciting” and “spirited.” Having been a part of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., he was used to spirited and lively worship services. He, in turn, brought that same “flavor of worship” with him to Columbia, SC. He taught the saints that worship services did not have to be “dead” or “dry.” Many of the old jubilee songs of the church were taught by Bishop Williams. In the early years of the church, there were no musicians to provide music for the worship services. As a skilled guitar player, Bishop Williams would play the guitar to provide music for the services. He often loved to sing songs in the worship services. Some of his favorite songs were: “He’s the Lily of the Valley,” “Sweet Will of God,” “So Wash Me Thou,” and “Your Heart Must Be Clean to See Jesus.” Bishop Williams was not a man who would often dance or shout, when anointed by the Holy Ghost. He instead would simply cry and clap his hands.

As the organization began to grow, Bishop Williams had a desire to build a church in Columbia, SC to serve as a fitting “headquarters” for the organization. Groundbreaking for the new building took place in 1959. He was able to realize this dream on Sunday, April 8, 1962 at the dedication service for the new edifice. After many years of planning and construction, the Lord blessed the new headquarters church in Columbia, SC to be completed and dedicated. Bishop Williams invited his long-time friend, the late Bishop Hubert J. Spencer, Presiding Bishop of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., to preach the dedicatory message. It was a joyous day for Bishop Williams and he thankfully declared that he was grateful to the Lord for sparing his life to see the vision come to pass. At the end of the dedication service, Bishop Williams led the congregation in a resounding rendition of the jubilee song, “Can’t You See What the Lord Has Done!”

In November of 1963, a major split occurred in the organization. Several of the leading ministers, deacons and members who had worked hard with Bishop Williams for many years left the fellowship of the Progressive Church. Although Bishop Williams was dismayed by this, he continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Lord continued to bless the Progressive Church. His greatest desire was to see the church progress and be united toward winning souls for Christ.

One of the most joyous occasions in his lifetime was also marked with one of the saddest occasions in his lifetime. In August of 1964, during the 20th Annual Holy Convocation, the national church body honored Bishop Williams for 20 years of dedicated service and faithful labor in South Carolina. This was certainly a time of celebration and reflection upon the rich history of the church. During the week of the Convocation, Sister Helen Washington, entered the hospital, once again seriously ill. On Thursday evening August 27, 1964, she fell asleep in the Lord in the midst of the 20th Annual Holy Convocation. Despite the loss of the first member saved under his ministry in Columbia, Bishop Williams continued to teach the saints to have faith in God and to continue in His Word.

As pastor of the Progressive Church in Columbia, SC and as presiding Bishop of the organization, Bishop Williams shouldered an awesome responsibility in leading the people of God. He devoted much of his time to the development and growth of the church and to the care of the flock, over which the Holy Ghost had made him an overseer. In the latter part of 1965, it was discovered that he was seriously ill. He continued to press on, despite his prognosis, preaching, teaching, visiting the sick and performing his normal ministerial functions. Bishop Williams continued his ministry until his health would no longer permit.

In December of 1965, realizing that his illness was becoming more serious, he called several of the pastors to his home in Columbia, SC for a special meeting. At the meeting in the living room of his home, he shared with the elders that he was quite ill and that, if the Lord did not intervene, he would not be able to live in his present condition. Bishop Williams appointed five of the elders to serve on a board to provide leadership for the organization. While he could have appointed a successor to his position as presiding bishop, he did not, rather choosing to tell the elders that in time God would reveal to them who should lead them. At this meeting, he also appointed his son, Minister J.D. Williams, to pastor the Columbia Church and asked the Board of Elders to help train the young minister. Finally, he asked the elders to ensure that his wife, Sister Bessie Williams, was taken care of after his death.

For about two weeks, from late December 1965 to early January 1966, Bishop Williams stayed home and did not attend church. This was an unusual experience for a man who had pressed through many illnesses and sicknesses to attend church, even preaching for several weeks sitting down due to a broken leg in a cast. Early on the morning of January 10, 1966, he talked with his wife, Sister Bessie Williams, telling her that he was ready to die and not to worry. Realizing that the Bishop’s physical condition was rapidly worsening, Sister Bessie called Sister Mary Collins, a nurse, and Sister Laura Ashe, asking them to immediately come to their home. Shortly after they arrived, they went in to visit with Bishop Williams. Although in bed, he was alert and able to acknowledge their presence. A few short moments later, he fell asleep in the Lord as his head lay in the arms of his wife, Sister Bessie Williams.

The funeral service for Bishop Williams was held on the cold Sunday morning of January 16, 1966. Hundreds of saints filled the headquarters church in Columbia, SC to pay tribute to their fallen pastor and bishop. Many of the men and women who passed by his casket cried as they viewed his body. He was reflected upon by the various pastors, elders, ministers, missionaries and saints as a compassionate and great man of God. His long-time friend, Bishop Hubert J. Spencer, was scheduled to deliver the eulogy at the funeral. However, he was unable to attend the service due to a major snow storm in the Ohio area. As a result, Elder Herman Jackson, one of the senior elders of the church, delivered the eulogy at the funeral. Bishop Williams was buried at the headquarters church in Columbia.

Those who had the opportunity to know Bishop Williams will always carry a special love and admiration for him. Though he was large in stature, at over six feet tall, he was small enough to take time with anyone in need of prayer, spiritual instruction, or counseling. The principles he instilled in the early saints and his firm stand upon the Word of God have enabled the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ to carry on for many years after his death. Though Bishop Williams is not with us now, his memories will live on forever. We will always cherish the contributions and the legacy left by our founder. We can conclude of him in the words of the Apostle Paul, “he fought a good fight, he finished his course, he have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for him a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give him at that day.” 

Remembering Our Second Presiding Bishop

Bishop Joel G. Washington, Sr.

1907 - 1987

After the death in 1966 of our founder, Bishop J. D. Williams, Sr., the Progressive Church was blessed with another great leader.  Bishop Joel G. Washington led the church forward into its second generation and continued to build upon the foundation which had been laid by Bishop Williams. Bishop Joel Gilbert Washington, Sr. was born on May 29, 1907 in Hopkins, SC to Mr. and Mrs. Joel and Selena Washington. He was one of five children. After graduating from high school, he moved to Columbia, SC. In 1935, he was united in holy matrimony to Helen L. Smith and to this union ten children were born. However, of those ten children, only one child survived, Joel Gilbert Washington, Jr.

Bishop Washington and his wife, Sister Helen Washington, provided their home to Bishop Williams for the first service of the Progressive Church held in Columbia, SC. Although he did not immediately submit to water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, he supported the church and supported Bishop Williams in his early endeavors to establish the Progressive Church. After several months, on March 28, 1945, he was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. He often told the story that after he first received the Holy Ghost and returned to work, it seemed to him that the machines at work were making noises that sounded as if they were saying, “Jesus-Jesus-Jesus.” 

Brother Washington served in many capacities in the young church. During the mid 1940’s, when the church was located in the Taylors Community of Columbia, he was the only adult male in the church. Despite the absence of men in the church, Brother Washington worked diligently to support Bishop Williams. He was the first brother to be ordained as a deacon, and he maintained the finance records of the church. He was the first superintendent of the Sunday School Department, the first brother to be licensed as a minister, and the first minister to be ordained as an elder in the Progressive Church. 

In 1952, Bishop Williams began a second mission in Columbia, SC at 2217 Waverly Street. He assigned Elder Washington to regularly minister at this location until the entire church was moved from the Taylors Community in Columbia to Waverly Street. During this interim period, Elder Washington provided spiritual instruction for the saints who worshiped at Waverly Street.

In 1948, Bishop Williams went to the Columbia Hospital to pray for a sister who was ill. While at the hospital, he prayed for another young lady, Ms. Mary Anderson, who shared a room with the sister he originally went to visit. After praying for Ms. Anderson, God healed her and delivered her from the hospital. She later came to the Progressive Church to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Sister Anderson lived in Killian, SC and through her desire, a Progressive Church was established in Killian, SC. In 1953, Bishop Williams appointed Elder Washington to serve as pastor of the assembly in Killian. Under his leadership, many things were accomplished in Killian. The first block church was built shortly after he became pastor. Also, under his leadership in Killian, several men were ordained as deacons and licensed as ministers. 

Although Elder Washington worked in Charleston, SC for US Steel Company, he made the sacrifice to travel back and forth to provide spiritual instruction and teaching for the growing congregation in Killian, SC. As one of the senior elders of the church, Bishop Williams often relied on Elder Washington to support the work of the church and to provide guidance for the younger ministers in the gospel.

Elder Washington was also very dedicated to supporting his wife, Sister Helen Washington, throughout her many illnesses. At times, when she was unable to handle the affairs of the home, he would often cook and take care of the daily chores. He loved and provided for Sister Washington faithfully until her death on August 27, 1964. Although he certainly was saddened by her death, he remained faithful to God and to the Progressive Church. As a dedicated son-in-law, after his wife’s death, Bishop Washington faithfully ensured that the needs of his mother-in-law, Sister Carrie Brown, were always met.

Just prior to his death in January 1966, Bishop Williams appointed Elder Washington to serve as a member of the Board of Elders to provide leadership and guidance for the national church. After the death of Bishop Williams, the Board of Elders collectively governed the Progressive Churches. Shortly after the board’s establishment, Elder Washington was elected to serve as chairman of the Board of Elders. Members of the Board of Elders were assigned to oversee districts of churches to maintain the unity of the organization. Elder Washington served as the District Elder for a number of churches including: Columbia, SC; Killian, SC; Lugoff, SC; Hopkins, SC; and Winnsboro, SC. 

From 1968—1973, Elder Washington served as a co-pastor for the headquarters church in Columbia, SC, along with other members of the Board of Elders. In addition to serving as pastor of the church in Killian, SC, he would preach in Columbia one Sunday out of each month and also teach Bible Class in Columbia one Friday night out of each month. During the week, when many of the other members of the Board of Elders were unable to be in Columbia, SC for the local worship services, he would often attend mid-week services to provide counseling and leadership for the membership. 

In 1973, Elder Washington was consecrated to the office of Bishop, along with the other members of the Board of Elders. After the establishment of the Board of Bishops, the members of the board had an important decision to make regarding the leadership of the organization and determining who, among them, would serve as the new presiding bishop.  After prayerful and thoughtful consideration, Bishop Washington was elected to serve as Presiding Bishop of the Progressive Churches.  He was chosen because of his years of wisdom and experience in the ministry. At this time that he was also appointed to be the sole pastor of the headquarters church in Columbia. After being appointed pastor in Columbia, he relinquished his pastorate in Killian, SC after 20 years of service.  Minister J. D. Williams, Jr. was appointed to replace him in Killian, SC as pastor. 

During his tenure as Presiding Bishop of the organization, the Progressive Churches experienced unprecedented growth, with ten new churches added to the organization. It was under the administration of Bishop Washington that many of the present pastors were sent out, as young men, to pastor the newly established Progressive Churches. Bishop Washington would proudly send young pastors to new cities telling them, “I want you to baptize everybody in the city in the name of Jesus Christ.” It was because of the faith that he placed in these young men, that many of them are in leadership roles today. In 1983, Bishop Washington appointed Bishop Edward Smith to assist him in providing leadership for the organization, serving as Assistant Presiding Bishop. 

Bishop Washington was a man who believed in giving opportunities to younger men in the ministry. Not a man who was lifted up in pride or boastful of his position, Bishop Washington always displayed a meek and humble demeanor.  Bishop Washington had a great love for the youth of the church. He often provided them with opportunities to conduct the services, participate on the programs, and allowed the young brothers to give exhortations and sermonnettes during the worship services. 

Bishop Washington was a man who believed in and taught the importance of faithfulness in church attendance. During his tenure as pastor of the headquarters church, worship services were held four nights out of each week in addition to services on Sunday. While this may have been too busy a schedule for many pastors, rarely would Bishop Washington miss any of the week-night services. He would also make every effort to attend the regular noon prayer hour at the church, and pray with the saints who were in need. As a man who believed in order, he was a stickler for making sure services began on time.  He would always instruct those conducting the worship services to make sure the services began on time. Rarely would he hold meetings or counseling sessions during worship service time because he believed that he needed to be in the worship service along with the saints. 

A man known for his “witty” saying, he would often proclaim to the church when preaching, “If there are one thousand gods, only one died for you.” Another one of his favorite sayings was to use the analogy of the game of football to remind the saints how God will “look out” for his people. He would often say that, “the Lord will run interference for you.” Many of the saints who were saved at the headquarters church in Columbia under Bishop Washington’s leadership will never forget his love for them and for the church of God. Many saints still recall the words of wisdom and the godly advice given to them by the late Bishop Washington. 

In the 1980's, the Lord enabled the Columbia Church to purchase some of the land adjacent to the sanctuary at 2222 Barhamville Road. Bishop Washington had plans to build a new sanctuary for the growing congregation. However, he did not live to see this plan come to fruition. From 1986 to 1987, Bishop Washington’s health began to significantly decline. Although he was unable to preach as regularly as he would have liked, he regularly attended the worship services and relied on his assistant pastor, Elder Theodore Jenkins, to provide spiritual instruction for the saints. During the latter months of his life, he was placed on dialysis due to the failure of his kidneys. While many would have allowed this to stop them, Bishop Washington continued to remain faithful in the service of the Lord. When he was too weak to enter the pulpit, he would simply sit on the side pews by the door because of his desire to be in the house of the Lord. When he was so weak that he should have stayed at home to rest, he still continued to come to the house of the Lord. 

On April 14, 1987, after a short stay in the hospital, Bishop Joel Gilbert Washington, Sr. passed away. His death occurred just shy of his 80th birthday. A special memorial service was held for Bishop Washington on Friday, April 17, 1987. Many of the saints gave special remarks, reflecting upon his life and legacy. One of his favorite jubilee songs was, “Lord, I Thank You All the Days of My Life.” He would often say that no one could sing that song like his late wife, Sister Helen Washington, and Sister Laura Ashe. In tribute to Bishop Washington, the Memorial Service ended with Sister Ashe leading the congregation in singing, “Lord, I Thank You All the Days of My Life.”

The Funeral service for Bishop Washington was held on Saturday, April 18, 1987 at the headquarters church in Columbia, SC. Hundreds of saints came from all over the southeast to pay tribute to this great man of God. He was eulogized by Bishop Edward Smith, the Assistant Presiding Bishop, and was recognized as being one of the patriarchs of the Progressive Church. The Lord blessed Bishop Washington to have a long and successful ministry that resulted in many souls being won for the kingdom of God.  He was buried beside his wife, Sister Helen Washington, at the Palmetto Cemetery in Columbia, SC.

Bishop Washington’s patient spirit, words of wisdom, and his quiet and humble leadership style will always be remembered and cherished by those who knew him well. He will always hold a special place in the hearts of the saints who were saved under his pastorate in Killian, SC and in Columbia, SC.  We will always remember the contributions of this great man of God. 

Remembering Our Third Presiding Bishop

Bishop Edward Smith


Bishop Edward Smith was born and raised in Birmingham, AL. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the US Army. When Bishop Smith joined the army, he was to be stationed at a military base in Kentucky for basic training. However, at the last minute his orders were changed, and he was sent to Fort Jackson Army Base in Columbia, SC. God had other plans for his life. He arrived in Columbia on September 22, 1950. 


Having been raised from a child to attend church, Bishop Smith began attending different churches in Columbia.  One day he met Sister Edna M. Friday, niece of the late Bishop J. D. Williams. She invited him to attend services at the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, where she was a member. He accepted her invitation and visited the small church located in the Taylors Community near the fair grounds in Columbia. After attending the service, his interest in the Word of God was greatly stimulated.  He was so moved by the preaching and teaching of the Word of God by the late Bishop J. D. Williams, that he continued attending services, learning all he could about God’s plan of salvation. On November 4, 1951, after visiting the church for several months, he was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and he later received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Although he missed his ride to church that night, he caught a cab because of his determination to be saved. From that day forward, God began to reveal His purpose for Bishop Smith’s life.  


On August 6, 1952, young Brother Edward Smith was united in holy matrimony to the one who introduced him to the Progressive Church, Sister Edna M. Friday. They were blessed with three children: Elder William E. (Sheneice) Smith, David N. (Carolyn) Smith, and Joyce D. (Lewis) Grimes. Bishop and Sister Smith also have three grandchildren:  David N. Smith II, Brandon E. B. Smith, and Adrienne M. Smith.   


In September 1953, Brother Smith had to make a decision between continuing his military career as a soldier in the US Army or coming back to South Carolina and the Progressive Church. He made the choice to stay in South Carolina because of the Progressive Church.  As time progressed, Brother Smith continued to grow in the Lord. He assisted Bishop Williams in the church in many capacities. He served as an usher, Sunday School teacher and worship service leader. In 1955, Bishop Williams appointed Brother Smith as a deacon on trial. After observing Brother Smith’s service in the church and the call of God on his life, Bishop Williams chose rather to license him as a minister during the 12th Annual Holy Convocation in August 1956. He served well as a local minister, and was ordained as an Elder during the 13th Annual Holy Convocation in August 1957.   


On September 3, 1957, Bishop Williams invited Elder Smith and his wife to attend a service with him at the Progressive Church in Blackville, SC. After Bishop Williams preached the message for the evening, he announced the resignation of the previous pastor and asked the small congregation if they would like to have Elder Smith as their new pastor. As the small congregation replied “yes,” Bishop Williams asked Elder Smith for his response. At the time, Elder Smith had no prior knowledge that Bishop Williams planned to make such an announcement. Elder Smith answered that the Lord saved him for service and that he would be willing and obedient if it was God's will that he serve in Blackville, SC. He was then officially installed as pastor of the Progressive Church in Blackville, SC with only six members. At the time only one member had a job, which paid just $11.00 per week. However, Elder Smith often gave of himself, unselfishly, to support the work of the small church. He later relocated the church from Blackville, SC to Denmark, SC. With only $400 in the church treasury, Elder Smith and the young congregation began construction on a new church edifice in Denmark, SC. In 1963 they completed and dedicated the new church edifice.   


Although many ministers forsook the Progressive Church during the 1950s and 1960s, Elder Smith stood faithfully with Bishop Williams. One evening in 1959, Elder Smith and Bishop Williams traveled to Blackville, SC to pray for a sister in the church who was ill. While traveling down the highway, their car was hit, head—on, by a drunken driver traveling at a high rate of speed. Although their car was totaled, with even the steering wheel ripped out, the Lord spared their lives. Bishop Williams sustained a broken ankle, and Bishop Smith sustained minor cuts and bruises. While an ambulance took Bishop Williams back to Columbia, Elder Smith caught a ride, though bleeding, and continued on to Blackville, SC to pray for the sister.    


In January 1966, the Progressive Church established a Board of Elders to govern the Progressive Churches. Five men, including Elder Smith, servde on the Board of Elders. Elder Smith served on the Board of Elders from 1966 to 1973. During this time, he was instrumental in establishing an education program for the ministerial body of the Progressive Church. On August 20, 1973, during the 29th Annual Holy Convocation, Elder Smith was consecrated to the office of Bishop and became a member of the Board of Bishops. Bishop Smith served as Executive Secretary to the board along with other board members: the late Presiding Bishop Joel G. Washington, the late Bishop Henry J. Breakfield, and the late Bishop Ernest Finkley. During that time, the organization consisted of several districts, with Bishop Smith serving as District Bishop over District One and the Florida District. During the 39th Annual Holy Convocation in 1983, Bishop Smith was appointed to serve as Assistant Presiding Bishop of the Progressive Churches.   


In 1985, the Lord enabled Bishop Smith and the Denmark congregation to purchase 16 acres of land for a new church edifice to accommodate the growing congregation. In November 1986 they were blessed to complete and dedicate their new church edifice, debt free. The congregation in Denmark, SC continues to worship there today.   


In April 1987, after the death of Presiding Bishop Joel G. Washington, Bishop Smith became Presiding Bishop of the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc.  He also became pastor of the Headquarters Church in Columbia, South Carolina that same year. During his tenure as pastor, the headquarters church has experienced growth in its membership as the Lord continues to add souls to the church. Early in his tenure as pastor, the Columbia Church purchased an apartment building adjacent to the sanctuary that was renovated and converted into a National Church Office Building. This building was utilized for classes and other local and national church functions for many years. The building was later refurbished and converted back into apartments for the saints.  Also under Bishop Smith's leadership, a smaller apartment building adjacent to the church was acquired and renovated by the brothers of the church. Several of the saints currently reside there.    


In the early 1990's, the Lord enabled the Columbia Church to purchase land adjacent to the sanctuary at 2222 Barhamville Road. Bishop Smith had a vision to build a new sanctuary and family life center for the growing congregation.  After several years of planning, Bishop Smith and the saints of Columbia broke ground for a new 1,000 seat sanctuary and family life center in August 1996. It was Bishop Smith’s goal to complete the building project without a mortgage. Everything at the time seemed to be moving ahead as planned. However, in February 1997, the construction company hired to build the new facility filed for bankruptcy.  Faced with a major obstacle, Bishop Smith stepped out in faith and became the project manager. He contracted with C.T. Johnson Construction Company to continue building through the use of their contractor’s license and professional advice. Bishop Smith assumed the awesome responsibility of hiring employees and sub-contractors, and directing the day-to-day activities of the building project. He appealed to the congregation to devote as much time, energy, and resources as possible to helping complete the building project.  In addition to managing the building project in Columbia, Bishop Smith was also involved with a simultaneous building project for a new family life center at the church in Denmark, SC.   


Throughout the building project, Bishop Smith encouraged the congregation as Colossians 3:23-24 states, "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord."  For more than two years, under Bishop Smith's direction, the congregation became actively involved in every aspect of the building project, from planning to performing the actual daily work. Bishop Smith designated every Saturday and week nights that  a worship service was not held as work days for the brothers of the church. On many nights, Bishop Smith could be found working along with the brothers at the church until 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. in the morning.  Bishop Smith also involved the sisters of the church in the building project through cleaning the building and ensuring that the brothers working at the church had home-cooked meals while they worked on the new facility.    


On October 17, 1999, after more than three years of construction, the Lord blessed Bishop Smith and the Columbia congregation to complete and dedicate the new multi-million dollar sanctuary and family life center.  Because of the dedication and faithfulness of the congregation and others who believed in Bishop Smith's vision, the new headquarters church complex was completed debt free. To God be all the glory!  Although many proclaimed that it would never be accomplished, Bishop Smith constantly taught the saints to have faith in God to work a miracle.  As the largest congregation in the organization, the headquarters church in Columbia, SC has a rich history begun by our founder, the late Bishop J. D. Williams, and it continues to experience new spiritual and natural heights under Bishop Smith's leadership.  

With 50 years of experience as a pastor, Bishop Smith has seen God work many miracles. On one occasion, he was called to the home of a church member who was possessed by a demonic spirit. When he arrived at the home to pray for the young sister, he found her in a disturbed state. As Bishop Smith talked to her, the demonic spirit responded out of the young sister in the distinct voice of a man. Determined that the power of God would prevail, Bishop Smith told the sister to do all she could to call on the name of Jesus. As she was finally able to call on the name of Jesus, the demonic spirit was cast out of her.  Through that experience God confirmed the power of calling on the name of Jesus. On another occasion, Bishop Smith visited a sister who was ill in the hospital and unable to walk. As he visited her at the hospital, he rolled her in her wheelchair to another area of the hospital, where he prayed for her. God miraculously healed her body and she was able to walk back to her hospital room pushing her own wheelchair, to the amazement of many who had seen her just a few moments earlier.   


Bishop Smith went to sleep in the Lord on November 10, 2020 after nearly 70 years of faithful ministry in the Progressive Church. His legacy and contributions to the Progressive Church will always be cherished. 

An Exclusive Interview with Bishop Smith in 2007:

As a young soldier coming to South Carolina, what impressed you about the Progressive Church?  I would certainly say that the physical building was not impressive at all, nor was the location of the church, or the choir. It certainly wasn’t the padded pews, the many instruments we have today, or the central cooling and heating systems because the church didn’t have those things back then. I would say that what impressed me more than anything else was the simplicity and purity in which the Word was taught and preached by the late Bishop J. D. Williams. 


At what point did you realize that you needed to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ?  I began visiting the church probably in the spring of 1951. After hearing several sermons on the subject and really having been made to understand the gospel message and my response to it, I decided on November 4, 1951 that I needed to be baptized in Jesus name; and I was. 


During your early years in the Progressive Church, are there any persons you feel had a positive influence on you and who played a key role in your development as a brother in the church?  First I’d say my pastor, the late Bishop J. D. Williams. I will forever be grateful for his influence upon my life. I feel that what I am today I owe to him and to his steadfastness, and to the Lord that sent him. Also, the late Sister Helen Washington, who was a woman of faith. She always had an encouraging word for me that enabled me to hold on through some difficult times in my Christian experience. Another person that positively influenced me was the late Sister Bessie Williams. She taught us all how to pray and to trust God. She would often share her vision with us concerning the future progress of the Progressive Church.  


Who were some of the other young men you were close to in the early years of the Progressive Church?  The late Bishop Malon Pollock, Deacon Jeff Gilmore, Deacon Raymond Thompson, the late Elder Herman Jackson, the late Elder Calvin Jackson who taught us all how to play the piano, and Elder Heyward Anderson just to name a few. These brothers, along with myself, worked hard with Bishop Williams to build various churches and perform other work in the church during the 1950’s. These are just some of the brothers that I can mention, although there are more. 


When did you feel the call of God on your life to go into the ministry?  Well, I'd say in early 1956 I began preaching. I never asked to preach. My pastor saw something in me and appointed me to preach. I often look back and reflect on at what point I really felt the call of God on my life. I'd have to say that God put a burden on my heart early in my Christian walk for the needy, the sick and shut-in, and for people in general. Since that time, God confirmed that this was His will for my life. 


What do you feel Bishop Williams saw in you that caused him to appoint you as a member of the Board of Elders to govern the organization after his death?   As one of the elders ordained by him, I believe he saw my faithfulness and steadfastness in the way, as I was not one that wavered. I believe he also saw the loyalty I exemplified toward him and my church. He felt I had the ability to be a part of the leadership team for the church. 


After the death of Bishop Williams, what role did you play as a part of the Board of Elders?  I’d really say that I played many roles. I specifically worked hard to maintain the unity that existed in the church before his death and I feel that we are a strong church today because of that continued effort through the years.  I also worked specifically during that time as the primary planner of our Annual Holy Convocations and in establishing educational programs for our ministerial body. 


Did you ever think that you would one day be the Presiding Bishop?  No, I really had no idea that God would call me to do this work. I simply did what was asked of me for the up building of the kingdom of God and for the establishment of this church, faithfully. As time progressed, God moved me into positions where I could be most effective in the up building of His kingdom. 


In April of 1987, what was the first thing the Lord impressed upon you when you became the Presiding Bishop and Pastor of the Headquarters Church in Columbia?  He impressed upon me the need to unite the national church so that we might progress as our name implies. In order to do this, I was lead to use for our 1987 Convocation theme, "The Church United for Progress." The following November I instituted our first National Unity Conference that focused on issues facing the church and vital to maintaining national unity.  I believed, achieving this would enable us to meet the challenges of the coming years. I worked hard over the years for the church to be one as Jesus prayed. 


Given that the Presiding Bishop does not necessarily have to pastor the Headquarters Church, why do you feel the Lord sent you to Columbia?  I feel the Lord had a special work for me to do in Columbia, for which my prior experience in the church had prepared me. At that time, I had pastored the Denmark Church for about 30 years, served as Presider over District One and the Florida District, and as Assistant Presiding Bishop. While these things certainly were not required to pastor the Columbia Church, I feel the Lord called me to serve during such a time as this. I believe the Lord has since confirmed His will for me to be in Columbia through the many things He has enabled us to do. To God be all the glory. 


The Progressive Church has often been criticized for its uncompromising stand on issues that relate to what the Word of God teaches. What motivates you to rise above this criticism and hold firm to Apostolic Principles?  I feel that compromising God's Word is worse than going back into the world and doing all the damnable things the Bible teaches against. You'll get no more for that than you will for compromising the Word of God. Many, in the church world today, compromise the truth for the sake of building large church memberships and buildings.  God has called the Progressive Church to earnestly contend for the faith, which was once delivered to the saints. As shepherd of this flock, it is my responsibility to ensure that we hold fast to the Word that was first spoken by the Lord, confirmed unto us by them that heard Him, and passed down the line of time to those of us who preach the gospel today. 


Do you feel that you have been able to accomplish the goals you initially had as pastor of the Headquarters Church in Columbia and as Presiding Bishop of the organization?  Certainly not all of them. While having accomplished many things during my tenure here, there is still a long list of things yet to be done.  As I continue, God gives me a greater vision for more things to be accomplished in the coming days, weeks, months, and years that will help us to grow and fulfill our mission until Jesus comes. 


You fill three very important roles within the Progressive Church. You are the Presiding Bishop, pastor of the church in Columbia, SC and pastor of the church in Denmark, SC.  Given that requires a great deal of time and energy, what keeps you going?   First, I'd like to thank God for having been blessed with fairly good health. But I believe it's not just being in good health that keeps me going. It's the power of the Holy Ghost and my desire to fulfill my calling and be able to help others as we travel through this world. The Lord daily gives me the strength that I need to do His work. 


At this point in your ministry, do you have a main goal or focus for the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc.?   My main goal for the Progressive Church is for it to remain a true beacon of light in a dark and sinful world. I want the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ to stand firm on the principles set forth by our Lord Jesus Christ and preached by the apostles He sent. It is also my desire that the church be an example of everything the world needs.  If the world is looking for an example of better marriages, better homes, better reared children, better families, responsible men who love and support their families, and women who love their husbands and children, they should be able to look to the church. That is certainly my desire. 


What words of wisdom would you share with young men who have interest in going into the ministry?  I would say to them to be men of prayer, faithful in the Word, men who follow their spiritual leadership, and certainly to be led by the Spirit of God.  This is a taxing profession, but it is also very rewarding. Every time you see someone delivered from Satan and sin through the preaching of the gospel, it makes all your efforts of preaching and teaching worthwhile.  The greatest joy one can have after receiving the Holy Ghost and becoming a minister is to see God honor the Word that he teaches and preaches.  


While we certainly pray that the Lord will bless you with a long life and many more years, if you could name certain characteristics that a successor to you should possess, or any other words of wisdom, what would they be?  I feel that during my tenure, we have been able to accomplish a great deal both spiritually and naturally. It would be my desire that my successor be a man prepared to sacrifice of himself greatly to continue building on that, which has been established. Most importantly, I would admonish him not to let what has been done fail but, in the words of the late Bishop R. C. Lawson, "add thou to it." 


At this point, what is an average day in the life of Bishop Edward Smith? Upon rising each day, the first thing I do is fall on my knees in prayer. Following prayer I try to get in some physical activity such as walking and exercising to keep my body fit for the task of pastoring. On an average day, I spend approximately six to eight hours at the church, although sometimes much more. This time is spent studying the Word, planning, corresponding with other pastors by letter or by phone, counseling, calling the sick and shut-in, keeping track of the discouraged saints, and handling the day-to-day activities of the church. Other time is spent visiting the hospitals, and those who are sick at home. As often as I can, I attend all regular services in Columbia, SC and in Denmark, SC, teaching Bible Study and preaching. I also take time to travel to the other churches to visit and encourage the pastors and saints.