William K. Quick stumbled upon the Methodist religion accidentally. Or perhaps divinely, depending on your beliefs.
"My eye fell on a girl, and I started to follow her everywhere, including right into that church," recalls Quick with his contagious laugh. "I'll never forget that first Sunday. I asked my friend, 'Where do we sit?' keeping in mind that I just wanted to see her. He said, 'Anywhere but the front two rows,' which were empty, 'because the pastor spits.' "
Quick stayed in that church and soon thereafter, received his call to the ministry. "June 6, 1948, during a sunrise service," he recalls. "The sermon was by a remarkable English teacher by the name of Frances Haywood. She spoke of the many gifts that God has blessed us with but also opened our eyes to the many needs of the world. Wherever those needs and your talents cross, she said, that's where God wants you. I knew then that I was needed in the ministry of the church." He was only fifteen years old.
With financial assistance from The Duke Endowment, Quick entered the Duke Divinity School in 1955, the same year he began the resurrection of Ellis Chapel Methodist Church in rural Durham County.
Bishop Paul Neff Garber, dean of the divinity school from 1941 to 1944, appointed Quick as a student pastor to the Bahama circuit, which included three churches: Mount Tabor, Mount Bethel, and Ellis Chapel.
"When I first arrived, attendance was so low that the previous pastor recommended closing the Ellis Chapel. He said those tobacco farmers just weren't interested in religion. But God didn't call me to close churches, so I put on my work clothes and went out to the barns. They'd see me and say, 'Preacher, we're working, we ain't got time to visit,' and I'd tell them, 'I'm not here to visit, I'm here to work.' As a boy, I hired myself out to farmers, so I knew how to work tobacco. I did that every day, going from barn to barn, building relationships, and it didn't take long for them to realize that I was one of them."
Within a month, the church began to flourish. Quick began to offer more services and started a Sunday school program; the new congregation responded by refurbishing the entire church. Ellis Chapel continues to thrive today, fifty years after his departure. "The success of that church is a testament to the importance of pastors understanding the culture and history of their congregation. Anything less will surely end in failure," he insists. "You cannot serve people you do not love."
Quick eventually served twenty years in North Carolina churches before his appointment in 1974 as senior pastor at Metropolitan United Methodist, pictured above, a 2,200-member multicultural, multiracial church in Detroit. During his twenty-five-year tenure there, Quick solidified his reputation as one of the nation's most respected pastors, scholars, and teachers of the Methodist faith. He retired as pastor emeritus in 1999 and returned to the divinity school, where he continues to teach classes in leadership, administration, stewardship, and finance as part of the "Care of the Parish" curriculum.
"Since many of the students are not currently student pastors, there must be a practical aspect to all of their academic and theological training," he says. "I hope that my wide range of experiences and my classroom instruction can offer a guide to this next generation of leaders. If I can help these students build bridges into the parishes where they go to serve, then I will have made my contribution."
Okun is a freelance writer living in Durham.