GI Williamson: Reflecting on 60 years of ministry

Many men may be honored for 60 years in ministry, but few would equal the extensive influence of Rev. G. I. Williamson.

Rev. Williamson has spread the gospel in global contexts, preaching and teaching in the United States, New Zealand, and other countries. His written works have been translated into multiple languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Lithuanian, and Portuguese.

On June 1, 2012—exactly 60 years to the day from his ordination to the ministry—friends and family gathered at the Cornerstone United Reformed Church in Sanborn, IA, to mark this milestone.

Although an associate member of Cornerstone, Rev. Williamson remains in the Presbytery of the Dakotas of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). Rev. Archibald A. Allison, Stated Clerk of that presbytery, and Dr. Leonard Coppes, emeritus pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Denver, CO, participated in the ceremony.

Rev. Williamson’s current presence in both the URCNA and the OPC evidences a ministerial career that has transcended denominational and well as national borders. He’s served congregations of the RCA in Michigan, the UPC in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, the ARP in Arkansas, the OPC in Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Iowa, the RCNZ in Auckland and Upper Hutt, NZ, and the RPCNA in Kansas. Most of his ministry has been in the OPC (37 years) and the RCNZ (17 years).

GI Williamson in 1952

Born in Des Moines, IA, he grew up in a family with strong ties to the old UPCNA, although he admits, “in my earliest years, we were in United Brethren Churches more than in the UPCNA,” but the family returned to the UPCNA during his teen years.

He didn’t actually become converted, however, until after stints serving in the army and playing saxophone during the big band era. While attending Xenia Theological Seminary, he learned the biblical tenets of Calvinism from John Gerstner. It was also during his student days that he discovered the Westminster Standards (with proof texts) in dusty books about to be thrown out from a closet being cleaning at his church.

“It was like 2 Kings 22:8-20 all over again,” says Rev. Williamson. “My life was forever changed.”

Rev. Williamson was ordained on June 1, 1952, in Westminster UP Church in Des Moines, IA, and soon became pastor of the UP church in Fall River, MA.

GI Williamson in his army band

“I came to sense the impending suicide of the UPCNA (which came in 1958 when it merged with the apostate PCUSA), so I served a brief time in the ARP before coming into the OPC,” he says. “A small group of people who had been under my ministry in the Fall River UPC urged me to come back to Fall River to launch an OPC there. So, in late 1955, I became a home missionary pastor of Grace OPC in Fall River, where I served for seven years.”

Rev. Williamson was called to the RCNZ in 1962 and when he arrived in New Zealand, Rev. Richard Venema was already there, serving on loan from the CRC.

“Incidentally, when I entered the ministry of the Reformed Churches of NZ in 1963, it was Rev. Richard Venema who presided at my theology examination,” says Rev. Williamson. “When Rev. Venema came into our OPC Presbytery a few years ago, guess what! Yep, I got to preside at his examination….”

GI Williamson played saxophone in this orchestra during the big band era

Rev. Williamson served six years in Mangere, South Auckland, and 11 years in Silverstream, Upper Hutt (near Wellington). Between those two charges in New Zealand, he served three and a half years in the RPCNA in Wichita, KS.

After leaving Silverstream, he came back to the US, serving the OPC in Carson, ND, for ten years. He helped start an OPC in Hull, IA in 1992, but he and his wife, Doris, became associate members of Cornerstone URC in Sanborn, IA, in 1995.

“When we came to NW Iowa to ‘retire’ we saw no future for the CRC denomination,” he says. “But when two major secessions took place in our area (Orange City and Sanborn), we saw it as a duty to try to work with these churches. Most of the people who came to our small OPC had come from the Orange City CRC out of which the Redeemer Church emerged. So our Session met with their Consistory and agreed to join them if they were willing to allow us freedom not to observe man-made special days such as Good Friday and Christmas. They were. So we did. And there has never been any conflict over this issue.”

Still active, Rev. Williamson frequently preaches and is scheduled for 15 prison ministry days this year. He writes studies for men and women willing to meet with him.

“I include in these studies references that I hope will lead them to further searching of the Scriptures,” he says. “I avoid the use of words well-known by Reformed people, but teaching them nothing but the historic Reformed faith.”

Rev. GI Williamson and his wife Doris

Rev. Williamson has written study guides on the Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He’s written Wine in the Bible, The Church and Understanding the Times, and The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God. He’s edited a study of the Larger Catechism by Dr. J. G. Vos, and he edited the OPC publication, “Ordained Servant,” from 1992 to 2005.

He has received emails from people all over the world who have been helped by his writings on the Confession and Catechisms. He says, “I am amazed and thank God that my work has gone out in a number of languages other than English.”

What means the most to him is hearing how something he said has impacted a life for Christ. He gives this example: “I once gave an address to the faculty and student body at WTS. My subject was ‘Fire in My Bones.’ I said, in effect, ‘If you don’t have that, you don’t belong in the ministry.’ I felt that I had done a very poor job with that message. But many years later, I was invited to speak at a PCA in Birmingham. And one of the ministers who came told me that it was that ‘poor job’ of mine that never left him, driving him to keep on in his calling for many years.”

Other highlights of his pastoral career have been ministering to church leaders in Egypt and learning from the people in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. He says, “I still think the functioning level of the eldership as I have encountered it in the Continental Reformed tradition is superior to what I’ve experienced in several denominations of the Presbyterian tradition.”

But the biggest highlight for him is the “awesome privilege of preaching the Word (I still get butterflies in my stomach before I preach).”

He encourages you pastors to take their vows seriously: “Do not publicly teach or blog anything that is contrary to the Confessions you have publicly vowed to uphold. If you do come to the conclusion that you have a truth that must be considered, even though it would involve a change in those standards, take it to your Consistory, Classis and Synod before you say a single word to publicize your views. I am astounded at the ease with which this rule is violated.”

Looking back, Rev. Williamson says: “My life changed from confusion and doubt to assurance and confidence after I discovered the Westminster Standards (with proof texts). I saw then and there that the poor state of the church today is due in large part to ignorance of these marvelous documents. God’s truth doesn’t change. What was true in 1648 is still true today. The church will never advance until it recovers what God gave us in these standards. When it has done that, it can then go further in the truth.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18-19 of the September 12, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

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2 thoughts on “GI Williamson: Reflecting on 60 years of ministry

  1. Thank you for this fine article and tribute to our brother G.I. Williamson, including several poignant quotes.

    Can you refer to any expansion on this one:
    “I still think the functioning level of the eldership as I have encountered it in the Continental Reformed tradition is superior to what I’ve experienced in several denominations of the Presbyterian tradition.”?
    His views on the “functioning level” of elders as defined by the two schools of scriptural interpretation would be invaluable.

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