When Bishop-Elect Sonya E. Williams took a leap of faith in 2008 to start RIM Fellowship, an Atlanta-based ministry within the United Church of Christ, she was clear about her role as a spiritual leader to a historically marginalized group of believers.
"If it doesn't remove stigma and restore dignity, then it's not ministry," Williams says matter-of-factly.
Like most Black churches where women are the majority of weekly attendees, RIM's congregation reflects the trend; however, there are exceptions—RIM's female majority identifies as LGBTQ, and unlike most traditional and even some affirming Black churches, women in leadership are ingrained in RIM's culture.
"I definitely wanted a place where there would be equality and equity, and everyone had a chance to use their gifts, use their talents, and be respected as a child of Christ," Williams says.
"I've noticed that there were a lot of affirming churches operating in the same oppression but just kind of slapped gay or affirming on it. But were still not giving women a lot of the opportunities that the men had," she adds.
Now, nearly 15 years after opening its doors, RIM's ministry is living its mission of reaching the masses with a message of inspiration that moves people to their destination through the radically inclusive love of Christ—the good news that Williams refuses to only share within the confines of the church.
"We have to make sure that we are meeting people where they are," she says. "Take the church to the people. Leave the four walls."
The Jackson, MS, water crisis presented an opportunity for RIM Fellowship to do just that.
"When we saw on the news what happened with the pipes in Jackson, MS, that was the straw that broke the camel's back," Williams says. "How could we not find it in our hearts to get water and supplies to people who need it? We had to be there to help people who looked like us."
Shortly after, Williams launched a public drive to collect bottled water and other critical supplies for Jackson residents. A flier posted by Williams on RIM's Facebook page caught the attention of Southern Unity Movement and Rustin/Lorde Breakfast co-founder Darlene Hudson.
"She's always been a support to RIM," Williams says. "She said, 'I wanna help.' And she wrote a check and said, 'Hey, when can you pick it up?' We thank God for her generosity and willingness to respond to people in need."
Williams says RIM made four trips to Jackson to deliver water and other supplies, with more trips planned soon.
"The problem persists," she says. We're taking ministry out of the four walls into the places where people need to know that there's love and hope and that somebody cares—somebody sees them."
"We have a saying at RIM that outreach is our heartbeat. That is who we are."