Tisha Williams Is a First at First Baptist

New pastor’s interests run from Scripture to Superman
The Rev. Tisha Williams may be newly installed at the First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton, but she has already introduced a women’s ministry and even a logo. Baylis Greene

After two years without a pastor, the First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton has a live one. And she’s a woman — a first in the church’s recently celebrated 94 years and a rarity in the Baptist church nationally. 

In terms of particulars, the Rev. Tisha Williams hails from the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, holds a certificate from the Princeton Theological Seminary, and is continuing her Christian studies through Grand Canyon University. But spiritually, in the harder-to-pin-down life of the pulpit, where calling and charisma come into play, she’s a natural, as they say in Hollywood. 

A church service may not be a show, involving as it does essential matters of the soul, but when Ms. Williams is front and center before a congregation delivering a message of salvation, it matters very much that she is a vivacious and emphatic communicator of scriptural wisdom. 

The theme of her sermon on Sunday was “You are released,” having to do with a passage in Corinthians in which it says God will put before you only temptations that you can handle, and, what’s more, that he has preordained an escape — if you want it. She drove home the idea with the ultimate metaphor for pointless effort, the caged hamster, a creature that can see freedom on the other side of the glass but requires a hand from above for a lift out of a difficult situation. For us, that means captivity by all manner of afflictions, which Ms. Williams enumerated in a voice rising to a crescendo, drawing claps and shouts of affirmation from the pews: illness, debt, worry, bad relationships — “Say amen when I get to your street!” — depression, alcoholism, even the dispiriting omnipresence of corporate America.

She’s funny, too, invoking Ralph Kramden’s pomposity in “The Honeymooners” to illustrate a point, or letting it be known from the pulpit that, come Family Fun Day on June 10, should any parishioner be moved by the spirit to whip up some potato salad, it would be most appreciated.

Ms. Williams has been leading the church for only the past month and a half. A new experience came just Friday, when a visit to the beach brought an infusion of pastoral creativity. “It’s such a welcome contrast to Brooklyn,” she said. “And the congregation’s been wonderful. I hope to do as much for them as they’ve already done for me.”

She and her husband of 20 years, Deacon Larry Williams, have use of the parsonage across the parking lot from the red brick church, but they drive out from Brooklyn on weekends — Ms. Williams works for Time Warner in the city — and Wednesdays, when she leads Bible study at noon and 7 p.m. (Currently under consideration: “peace in the midst of chaos.”)

One of her first tasks was to design a handsome new circular logo for the church, emphasizing a mission statement in three words: “Connecting, Directing, Protecting.” And she is organizing a conference for July 7 based on a women’s ministry she started called Who’s That Lady? 

“It’s to let women know that they’re not alone, using women from the Bible to talk about sexual assault, for one thing,” she said, citing two victims of rape in the Old Testament, Dinah and Tamar. But it is also about women in commerce, and here she mentioned Lydia, the Apostle Paul’s first convert to Christianity, who was a businesswoman. 

“What women face has been going on forever,” she said. “So we’re going to have a women’s weekend.”

Ms. Williams’s interests are nothing if not various. In biographical material, she referred to herself as a “comic book nerd,” although the nerd part would be open to some debate. 

In the eternal Marvel-DC schism among comic book fans, she sides with the latter. “Ten or 15 years ago a friend introduced me to ‘Identity Crisis’ by Brad Meltzer,” a mini-series that ripped apart the venerable Justice League of America, “and that led me to ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Dark Knight Returns,’ ” two of the most consequential graphic novels of the 1980s, all of them a touch on the sinister side.

In “Dark Knight,” for instance, Superman is reimagined as a terrifying weapon of the United States government, but Ms. Williams likes him for a different reason.

“Everything he does is an exercise in restraint.” If he so much as sneezes he could bring down the house. “And to me it’s like the Jesus story. He chose to be human, to dumb down his divinity. He had the power to call down the angels or come down off the cross, but he chose to make the sacrifice.”

That might not make it into the Man of Steel’s next issue, but it sure sounds like a good sermon.