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The Rev. Ben Williams preached on Sunday, but not from the pulpit he had occupied for nearly seven years at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Boca Raton. He was in his living room.
Williams resigned from Ebenezer at the request of the trustees board, making the announcement after his final sermon last week.
His departure, which no one at the church would discuss in public, means the highest-profile black minister in Boca Raton has decided to start a new ministry.
That new vocation, dubbed Lighthouse Ministries of Boca Raton. just days ago, is unusual in that it represents the very thing that apparently helped get Williams banished from Ebenezer: a belief in a universal church that crosses denominational and racial divides.
He said it is borne of his experiences, associating for the past few years with Christians throughout Boca Raton.
"It has opened my eyes up... to be able to meet men and women of Christ who work together and respect each others' beliefs," Williams said. "It's not about being limited to one particular church but thinking in terms of kingdom-building. You can't let denominations tie you down... I can't turn back now."
Several Ebenezer members and leaders did not return calls for comment, but some members suggested that Williams's fellowship with non-Baptists played a role in church leader's disenchantment. Williams supports that contention.
He has been noticeable in his ecumenical efforts as the only black member of a local pastors support group and a board member of Community Interfaith Coalition.
Williams formed a relationship between his church and Glades Presbyterian and has such a close relationship with the Rev. David Seabrooke of Camino Real Community Church that he has temporary office space there and is living in a church-owned home next door.
He is regularly invited to speak at such places as the Episcopal St. Andrew's School and Donna Klein Jewish Academy and works with city officials on issues involving Pearl City, Boca Raton's black enclave, where the 200-member Ebenezer is located.
Seabrooke met Williams two years ago. They're both Boca Raton police chaplains. "He has character," Seabrooke said. "It's easy to find people who would compromise in order to build up a church, but he has the passion to do what God would will him to do."
The Rev. Kernie Kostrub of Glades Presbyterian agrees.
"I think Ben wants to make a difference, and not just in the black community," said Kostrub, who met Williams four years ago. "I don't think they've caught the vision over there [at Ebenezer] yet. Ben's very open, but I always got the sense some of the church felt like, "What are these white people coming here for?"
"Ben wanted to see Ebenezer as an interracial church, and not this small black church."
That's definately his plan for Lighthouse Ministries , which started Sunday with 35 members, most black and from Ebenezer. They worshipped at William's house, sitting on folding chairs provided by Camino Real Community.
Williams said Lighthouse will begin using Camino Real's 200-seat chapel in November and plans an installation ceremony soon after. And although he was very happy with Sunday's turnout, he feels a tinge of loss.
"Y'know, separation brings on sadness. I still love that church, including the ones there who may not love me," he said. "But once we had the service Sunday, I realized that things had changed and I had to move on.
"I want to do more than have church service on Sunday.... The Lord has other plans for me."
Marian Dozier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6643.
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