BY JACK SHORT – Sometimes it takes a few knocks at the door before someone finally answers. For Rev. Matthew Morgan Williams, the new pastor at the United Methodist Church of Boca Grande, the call to pastorship came knocking three times before he knew he had to say yes.
Matthew was raised a devout Christian and was involved in ministry from an early age, but always thought music ministry would be his career, even after earning his undergraduate degree in music.
Matthew is a young pastor, especially for Boca Grande, at 34, but he’s been involved with the church for most of his life. He grew up in Valley, Ala., a town of just 4,000 people, but close to Auburn University for a mixture of small town and big college elements.
Valley is a textile town, he said, the home of West Point Steven’s Cotton. While some of his family worked in mills, just as many were a part of the church. His mother, brother, an uncle and grandmother worked at some point for or with their churches in capacities that ranged from organist to lay leader.
While it might seem like a foregone conclusion that he’d end up tied closely with the church, it still surprised some of his family that he might want to become a pastor, he said.
“They said, ‘Are you sure you want to be clergy?’” he recalled. “They wanted to make sure.”
Matthew said he knew in his heart this is what he was supposed to do.
He had studied music at Lander University in Greenwood, S.C., and, before he returned to seminary for a masters in divinity, spent 15 years building a career in music ministry.
He had started at 16, at his home church in Alabama, then in South Carolina at a local Methodist and a Roman Catholic church before moving to Jacksonville and eventually Tallahassee for full time work in the field.
During that time he also met his wife, Joy (a fellow musician), and recorded music with her.
Music ministry was very important to him – especially in preparing him to be a pastor, he said.
“But I felt the call to preach and administer sacraments, especially …” he added.
He has a specific fondness for one sacrament in particular: communion.
“It’s meaningful to me because, in that act bread is broken,” he said, “and we’re sent from the table to be the hands of jesus. I find it to be a very nourishing and spiritual practice.”
To understand part its meaning for Matthew, it helps to know the story of his call to preach.
It was a subtle thing at first.
“It wasn’t overly emotional,” he said. “There wasn’t lightning in the sky or signs to show me.”
It took a number of years and three separate occasions he remembers distinctly. But all were feelings, sort of a gentle tug at the conscience. The first happened on Christmas Eve during a service at his hometown church. Matthew was a teenager still and, upon receiving the eucharist during communion, he was aware of a need to serve others.
That would happen two more times over the years. The second time he was still in high school, though it was a few years later, and he felt the same thing when taking communion at a United Methodist Church camp for youth interested in ministry. He told his conference bishop about it and the bishop put his hands on Matthew’s shoulders and affirmed it.
But still, he was unsure.
“I was sixteen i wanted to do my own thing,” he said. “I had watched my pastors come and go a good bit … and I didn’t want to move around.”
Finally, at a conference in Gainesville he took communion and felt the same call a third time. He struggled with it.
“I was angry,” he recalled. “I walked out of the service.”
He took a walk to clear his head, and happened on a friend going the opposite way, to the service he’d left. They walked together and Matthew shared what had happened. Then his friend put his hands on Matthew’s shoulders and asked him, “You have a call in your life. When are you going to say yes?”
Matthew returned to the seminary, earning his masters from Asbury Theological Seminary, after that and began the long process of becoming a Methodist preacher. Since then he’s become pastor at Everglades Community Methodist Church in Pembroke Hills, between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami – a comparatively metropolitan area.
He must have seemed a little unsure when his conference bishop suggested he consider the vacancy in Boca Grande, because his bishop advised him to “just drive over there.”
And that was all it took.
Joy, for one, a self-proclaimed small-town girl, was convinced. And really, so was he. As they spent an afternoon strolling around the island, peeking in the UMCBG windows, experiencing Boca Grande’s unique hospitality and kindness, and having lunch in town, they fell in love with the place.
It will be a perfect place for them. Matthew and Joy, now a healthcare administrator, both love the outdoors. His favorite hobby is fishing and he’s looking forward to catching his first tarpon. Even the family dogs, two cavalier King Charles spaniels, will likely fall in love with the lush dog park and ample dining opportunities for humans with dogs in tow.