The Rev. Chandra I. Williams is running to become the first female president of the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention because she wants to make sure that women have a say in making decisions at both the state convention and local church levels, along with making the Black church strong again.

“I want to make sure that women have a seat at the table when vital decisions in ministry are made,” explained Williams, who currently serves as the convention’s Eastern regional vice president. That region encompasses Philadelphia and surrounding areas and is one of the convention’s largest sectors with more than 136 registered churches. She also served as president of the convention’s youth department for four years.

The Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention has been in existence for 125 years and consists of four regions: Eastern, Central, Southwestern and Western.

Williams was in Clairton over Memorial Day weekend in May speaking at an intimate tea with local church ministers and delegates one day, and at Morning Star Baptist Church in Clairton the next day, presenting her platform, “Operation Reset.”

She had come to the City of Prayer in October 2016 when the convention was held at Clairton’s Mt. Olive First Baptist Church, where over 500 people from churches across the state converged on the city to hear the dynamic preaching, speaking and to participate in the teaching sessions the convention offered. Williams was happy to pay the city a return visit.

“The churches need to be unified. When the church is not unified, each church is doing its own thing and people play on that,” Williams told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “We are the catalyst to make the African American church strong again.”

Williams currently is senior pastor of United Missionary Baptist Church in Philadelphia, where she was reared and still resides. Her father pastored the church for 54 years before she took the helm in 2012.

Minister Jean Gressem-Jacobs of Morning Star Baptist Church hopes Williams’ election as convention president will weave more women into the fabric of the church.

“I feel like we are not as relevant as we should be. We need to be more involved in all of the church’s decisions,” Gressem-Jacobs said.

Williams first received the Lord’s call on her life in 2000. The single mother of one son received her formal education in Philly’s public schools system before entering Virginia Union University. However, she graduated from Temple University with a dual degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. After working as a teacher for five years, she turned to banking and worked at PNC for 15 years, earning numerous sales and marketing awards. She is currently enrolled in the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia University in Richmond pursuing her Master of Divinity.

“You have to be able to lead, communicate and mediate,” she said. “You can’t run a convention like you run your local church; going to it once a week. The president has to be actively engaged. You have to emulate what you want to imitate. The convention has to model what it wants the church to model. I want to ensure that people feel that the Pennsylvania State Baptist Convention is a place they can learn from.”

Morning Star Baptist Church Minister Gloria Gressem faithfully attended the convention for 10 years but stopped due to a lack of diversity.

“The classes and the people didn’t change. Nothing changes and it gets redundant,” said Gressem.

If elected convention president, Williams vows to change that. The election occurs Oct. 12 in Philadelphia.

She also wants to cultivate relationships with historically-Black colleges—specifically Chaney and Lincoln. “Historically-Black colleges were started by churches and we are not actively engaged with them,” Williams said.

That piqued the interest of Rikkel Ford, who questioned how the convention will engage young people. “You have to know the technology and know that it is a huge part of the lives of a young adult. You have to be in touch with all the things that are important in their lives,” said Williams, whose son, Bernard Lambert III, is a drummer for such artists as Tye Tribbet (with whom he won two Grammy Awards), Floetry and Jazmine Sullivan. “The music and programming at the convention have to be right. Young people don’t want a lot of preaching and you can’t be judgmental. Young people need to see people who are successful in their careers and have those people show them how to get where they want to be. Our young people need to hook up at the convention because they are like-minded and lifelong friendships are made there.”