As for many of us, religion continues to play a significant part of my life. I have witnessed the struggle in the LGBTQ+ community and know to worship publicly seems like a forever tug of war. Finally, I was able to connect with people and have a worship experience as a community has given me peace. One of many reasons to write this article.
I met Pastor Sonya Williams a few years back at a church in the outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi. Sonya Williams, Pastor of RIM Atlanta, came to fellowship and preach during revival. I recall, she was accompanied by 1st lady Regina and part of the praise team. This sermon preached by a minister identifying as a leader in the LGBTQ community was a new experience. Years later, once we relocated to Atlanta, GA, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting RIM Church during the Sunday service.
Months passed; I contacted Pastor Sonya and expressed my interest in speaking to her about an article for PRIDEBUZZ . I asked her to discuss religion, ministry and our LGBTQ community. The interview was filled with well appreciated insight, a few ‘aha’ moments on my part and humor that lightened up the ‘oh-so’ serious discussion about some of the topics that impact us (LGBTQ community). In my opinion, non-members often refuse to perceive the gay community as a subculture that embraces religion. Contrary to believe WE are some of the most religious and spiritual people.
RIM Atlanta was nestled in the Decatur, Georgia area during the time of our interview, but has moved to an Atlanta location since we last spoke. (location information available by request)
Pastor Sonya Williams and 1st Lady Regina Williams (right to left)
I jumped straight into questions with Pastor Sonya Williams……
Samaya : How do you describe RIM Atlanta?
Pastor Sonya : RIM – Real Inspiration Ministry. We are a non traditional church, a whosoever church. We welcome all people – black, white, young, old, rich, poor, straight or gay. The heartbeat of our ministry is outreach. We definitely believe we are called to serve the beloved community of God. Regardless where you are in life’s Journey, we believe that Jesus would want us to be connected; that if there are people who are living on the margin or are disenfranchised, we are able to restore their dignity. We are here to do our part to restore communities.
Our worship style? We are more what I would consider meta-bapta-costal. We have integrated worship and are high energy. Our demographic is more African American, gay and lesbian, but comprised of a mixture of people.
Samaya: Would you like to share some of your work and ministry backgrounds?
Pastor Sonya : I am a retired educator and have been in ministry a little over 25 years. For a period of time I left the church. I did not understand how to integrate my sexuality with my spirituality. God clearly showed me that he loves ALL people unconditionally.
My wife, 1st lady Regina, has worked in the hospital setting as an operator (in telecommunications) for over 20 years. She is a graduate of Benedict College and member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.. She’s originally from South Carolina.
I graduated from Tennessee State University and am a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
Samaya: Are you from Tennessee?
Pastor Sonya: I was born in Tennessee but was raised in Flint, Michigan.
Samaya: It’s beautiful to know you both work in public service in a day to day setting; even outside of the ministry.
Samaya: Did someone inspire you to go into Ministry?
Pastor Sonya: Oddly, it was always something I knew I would do,even as a child.
I always knew I wanted to be a minister.I had a passion for youth and served as a youth minister. I also showed interest in ministering to women and the LGBT Community.
Samaya: Where do you see yourself and RIM in the next 10 years?
Pastor Sonya: I see myself still pastoring. (Real Inspiration Ministry) I see us with a school; an early childhood education facility that embraces children who are different. I would like the school to be inclusive of children who are of trans experience, as well as children who may have learning disabilities.We would like to service children who are left outside of mainstream education because of their uniqueness. In addition, we would like to have a shelter that services people from our community.
Samaya: What advice do you have for our LGBTQ community as a whole to become better (referring specifically to our division)?
Pastor Sonya: I believe that we must realize that in the whole scope of society we are a minority. I’ve heard someone say “there are not enough of us to be divided and once we realize that, we have to come together.” We have to come together and be the change that we want to see. We have to create change in places that have put up walls. We (the LGBTQ Community) have to build bridges and tear down walls. I think we’ll be better (as a community).I think we need more education, specifically more spiritual education. This is how we can understanding that we were created to be exactly who we are. I think that we’ve been trained to be at odds with one another because people clearly understand that if you divide communities (if you can separate them and put them against one another) you can divide them. (Our People) have a history of that.UNITED WE STAND DIVIDED WE FALL. I think it’s so important that we should understand that we have to be on the same team, that we have a united front and we have to demand justice ( remember justice is not just given)
Samaya: Do you provide counseling (especially marriage & relationship)?
Pastor Sonya: I strongly believe in and provide premarital counseling.
People need to heal from a lot of homophobia and hatred/dogma that has been put on the African American and LGBT community. I make it my business to provide those types of services. I am a certified counselor and am authorized to do so legally.
Samaya: Please give some advice to our single people ( I asked for the recipe on longevity)
Pastor Sonya : Regina and I have been married for 10 years. And we’ve fought very hard for marriage equality on every front that was possible. We believe in marriage, and relationships and love. And I think the advice that I can offer to others who are trying to be successful is to remember that it takes work. Relationships are seasonal and seasons always change. You may have a season where you love each other a lot and then you may have a season where you don’t like each other at all. Remember to stay the season trusting that the season will change. In addition, stay committed to your covenant even though you may struggle to stay committed to one another. When making a marital vow, a marital contract before GOD you promise that you would be committed to your relationship. Last, just simply keep the spark and communication alive. Regina and I are very busy people and work different shifts. If we can snatch a moment, we will sit down and have a date. We make sure we stay committed and check in with one another. Life gets busy and you don’t want to grow apart.
Throughout the interview with Pastor Williams and 1st Lady, I learned of many annual church events.
The yearly Easter Egg Hunt, in which all children are gifted with baskets as well as an annual Fashion Show. RIM’s 1st Lady, Regina, traditionally hosts the annual ‘First Responders Prayer Breakfast’ which is usually scheduled around the Mother’s Day celebration. ‘First Responders Prayer Breakfast’ includes other 1st ladies/gentlemen that will speak on this celebratory occasion. (I inquired on the initial meaning of ‘First Responders – Christians usually have a first response to pray)
Annual outreach programs hosted at RIM Atlanta include ‘Boxes of Love’. Boxes are filled and provide toiletries, hygiene products, shoes, clothes and other items to those in need. LGBT fraternities and sororities linked up with RIM to make this event a wonderful success (exceeding initial expectations 500 plus boxes were donated). ‘Purses with a Purpose’ also provides necessities to at risk members of the community. Community donated purses are filled with products for women in need.
If you have questions or would like to assist by donating please contact Pastor Sonya Williams or 1st Lady Regina Williams by email through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.rimatlanta.org as well as through Facebook at RIM CHURCH.
Thank you to Pastor Sonya Williams, 1st Lady Regina and the Real Inspiration Ministry for your time, patience and allowing PRIDEBUZZ to share your thoughts and outlook on the numerous Ministries you serve.