Willard High

High, Willard and Brenda
Willard and Brenda High

Willard High spent the first 20 years of his life in North Carolina. “My home was approximately 22 miles west of Raleigh, the capital. My grandparents lived in an agrarian wonderland. Most of my free time was spent working on my grandfather’s farm, playing in the Carolina woods with my dog and fishing with my family. All of my elementary and high school education was in the segregated environment of the Jim Crow South. Despite the disadvantages this presented, I received an excellent education through dedicated, compassionate and effective teachers.”

Now the Senior Pastor of Shepherd’s Community Church, a GCI church in Harvey, Illinois, Willard originally wanted to be a doctor or a movie director, but God had different plans. “I began attending the Radio Church of God with my maternal aunt, who became my guardian after losing my mother. She had been searching diligently for a church that would give her solid Bible teachings and provide guidance in life. I recall that I was at my girlfriend’s house when one of my cousins came running up and breathlessly told me my aunt said the sun was down and I needed to come home. That was my introduction to the rules and regulations surrounding the Sabbath and Holy Days. My mother was a very spiritual person who taught me to read using the Bible. She taught me that the original day of worship established by God in the Bible was the seventh-day Sabbath. My aunt’s discovery of the Jewish Sabbath, while disrupting my social life, rang true to my mother’s teachings as well as what I read in the Scriptures and made it easy for me to accept.”

From an early age, family members were telling Willard his destiny was to attend college. “No one from my family had graduated from college at that time, though there were some brilliant people in my family. As a member of the church, the ministerial couples always impressed me. They all seemed to possess a confidence and breadth of knowledge and wisdom that I desired. It seemed to me that attending Ambassador College would give me a solid biblical foundation, which I felt was essential for a good life. I was headed in the right direction, but by the time I graduated from high school, I could feel my dedication to God slipping away. I decided to attend Ambassador in an effort to stabilize my Christian life. I guess you could say that pursuing a more godly life brought me to where I am today.”

Willard entered Ambassador College in Pasadena, California in 1970 as one of the first ten single African-American students to attend the college. He graduated in 1974 with a BA in Theology. “My purpose for attending Ambassador was to learn more about the Bible and how to live. I had no intent of entering the ministry. I married my wife Brenda in 1975 and we made Southern California our home. We got involved with youth ministry and both she and I loved it. Our pastor, Selmer Hegvold, chose us as coordinators of the local Youth Opportunities United (YOU) chapter, serving the teens of the church. We were ordained as deacon and deaconess and then I was ordained an elder. In 1986 we accepted a full-time call to pastoral ministry in the Washington DC area, working with Richard and Joyce Frankel. During that time we were blessed to start a new church in Greenbelt, Maryland. It was a healthy church, which grew rapidly and is still viable today. Our next ministerial move brought us to Illinois where we pastored the Chicago South church. In two years, the church in Hammond, Indiana was added and we combined the two and that church is now known as The Shepherd’s Community Church. We continue to serve it as pastor.”

Willard and Brenda have been married for 39 years. “We reared two nephews, sons of my wife’s deceased sister. Theo is now married and lives in Southern California and Thurston lives in Illinois. We have no grandchildren yet.”

Willard says that Brenda has always played a significant role in his ministry. “We have shared ministry from our first days working in youth ministry. It has become more evident as the years have passed that God gave her gifts I do not possess in the same proportion to balance me and get the work done. She is an unusual mixture of administrative assistant, critic, confidante, leader, supporter and encourager. I am blessed that God saw fit to bring her into my life.”

When asked what he enjoys most about being a pastor, Willard said, “I love the nuts and bolts of ministry: the visitation, the fellowship, the worship service in its entirety, the counseling and preaching. There is nothing as wonderful as feeling the inspiration in doing these things. It is more precious than silver or gold.” About being part of GCI, Willard said he appreciates our grasp and approach to Trinitarian theology. “It is a very practical and natural approach that allows for and encourages real-life application of our theology to our relationship with God and others.”

Willard said he has many passions, but if made to choose, he’d choose reconciliation. “I have been a chapter leader in the Office of Reconciliation and Mediation (ORM) since shortly after its inception. Also, I have served as President of the Center for Multicultural Communities, in Illinois, and studied with the Center for the Healing of Racism, in Houston. The mission statement of our congregation reads: “We strive to be a spiritually sound, friendly and nurturing fellowship; using our gifts to serve our neighbor, proclaim the gospel and promote reconciliation.”

Willard noted that his congregation has spent the last seven years in a “Covenant of Shared Space” with First Reformed Church of South Holland. “We not only have shared space with them, but also ministry, and we have developed close friendships. When we first began meeting in their building, they were an all-Dutch congregation. We have been blessed to help them assimilate new members from the African-American community around them. Now they are multi-ethnic and quickly growing. The time sharing their building is about to end. God has provided a facility of our own in the neighboring community of Harvey, where we picture him doing great things.”

Willard’s most memorable moment as pastor was the 50th Jubilee Celebration of GCI in Chicago. “It was unbelievable—more enjoyable and rich with meaning than I could ever have imagined. The roster of guests was phenomenal, including pastoral couples who served in Chicago area congregations along with Mrs. Helen Jackson, wife of founding pastor Harold Jackson, and Dr. Joseph Tkach. Clearly, God smiled on this event and made it more glorious than we ever could have on our own.”

Willard said he feels closest to God in the great outdoors. “I love nature! Perhaps it’s a return to my roots, but I feel closest to God when I am out in his creation. There is no temple that can match the intoxicating feeling of standing under a flowered trellis with the sunlight illuminating the ceiling. No man can build anything to match the Grand Canyon or duplicate the awesome view you see while sitting 30 feet off the ground in an oak tree as the forest comes alive at the rising of the sun.”

8 thoughts on “Willard High”

  1. Thanks for sharing your bio with us. I noticed several contact points that resonate with me. For one, I have my WCG roots in illinois where I started attending my first worship services in Macomb, Peoria, Springfield and Champaign. Upon occasion I also visited the Hinsdale church. All of that in the early 1980’s. Much has happened since then.

    Found the comments about the Dutch church very interesting, particularly since I have the privilege to also be connected with the European Dutch church.

    May God continue to bless and magnify your ministry.

  2. Your bio was familiar to me after all the years we shared in ministry, but I’m glad many others will know you even better now. I have many fond memories of our times together; especially as a guest in your home.
    I share your love of nature and am blessed to live in a town where we look out on several snow-capped mountains each day.
    May God continue to bless you richly!

  3. You’ve come a long way since sharing a bunk-bed with me at AC during the earthquake in ’71. If you recall, I’d asked you to wake me up at 5:30 so I could study. Well, I think I remember rolling over when you did. The earthquake hit around 6 and I thought you were shaking the bed to get me up! Great to hear your story.

    Dave and Hinka Gilbert

  4. Our dear brother, sister the Almighty has brought you a
    mighty long way.
    Praise God.
    Carlton, Judy Green

  5. Thanks to you Highs for that high. So good to hear how God called you to follow Christ and is continuing to work there with you in an expanding way.

  6. Willard & Brenda, It was great to read your full bio. Our association in the Washington DC days are some of our fondest. It was obvious then that you two were going to be a great asset for God’s work. I always enjoyed my visits to that part of Illinois (South Holland) to visit family friends. Loved those Dutch folks. God bless you both. May He bless all you do in your new church location.

  7. Great article on two of the most caring and compassionate people I know who are working for God.

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