COLUMBIA—Deacon Rhett Williams said he knew his life was about to change profoundly when he lay flat down on the marble floor at St. Joseph Church on the evening of May 26.
Williams prostrated himself during the Litany of Supplication, as is customary during a man’s ordination to the transitional diaconate, a milestone step on the long road to priesthood.
“In many ways it was a surreal experience,” Williams said after the Rite of Ordination. “Ordination day itself was a whirlwind. There are so many rehearsals and details. You’re trying to get yourself ready. For me, it all stopped when I lay prostrate on the ground. Everything changed to slow motion. It was such a powerful day, and I couldn’t really process it until I was lying there.”
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone ordained Williams in front of a congregation filled with friends, family and well-wishers from around the country.
Deacon Williams will have new rights and responsibilities in the Church. He will now be able to proclaim the Gospel, assist during liturgy, witness a marriage outside Mass, give homilies and baptize.
At least 14 priests and eight deacons from the diocese attended the ordination, along with seven fellow seminarians from the Theological College at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Other seminarians from the diocese attended and assisted on the altar.
During his homily, Bishop Guglielmone described Williams’ new duties as a deacon, and urged him to carry out his role with love, humility and a commitment to serve in the true spirit of Christ.
“The diaconate and ultimately the priesthood are ways to give yourself totally to God,” the bishop said. “People will know who you are and what you represent by the way you live. Be generous. Be generous, preach fearlessly and do all of this for the honor and glory of God.”
After the ordination was complete, the bishop thanked Deacon Williams and his family.
“Ordination is one of the greatest joys of a bishop, and I can say that Deacon Williams has been a wonderful gift to the diocese in so many different ways,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “Now you are filled with the spirit of God and ready to minister.”
Williams’ family were seated in the front of the church and watched intently during the ceremony. Born and raised in the Charleston area, Deacon Williams is a son of Ricky and Cindy Williams of Mount Pleasant. He spent his youth focused on baseball, basketball and soccer.
He attended Bishop England High School for the academics and athletics, not religion. But along the way, he became intrigued and irresistibly drawn to the faith. He came into the Church in 2005.
Deacon Williams said it was a long process to believing he was called to the priesthood. It was during a time of study in the religious culture of Madrid that he was lifted to live his faith. When he returned home, people started asking if he’d considered the priesthood. After graduation, he spent three years in a Catholic community in El Salvador with the Peace Corps. That immersion fast-forwarded his conversion and the years following began deep discernment leading to this ordination day.
Mrs. Williams said she thought the whole ordination was beautiful. Like her son, she was especially affected when he prostrated himself on the floor.
“That part was especially very solemn and made you think about how important this is,” she said.
She said becoming a deacon is an important part of her son’s journey toward his dream of the priesthood.
“A lot of hard work has gone into this,” she said. “Rhett has done a lot of service work on top of his school work. He is the type of person who finishes what he starts and this ordination is evidence that he is doing that well.”
His brother Rick Williams brought up the gifts during the offertory along with his wife Megan and two of their five children. He had “conflicting but positive emotions” during the ordination.
“It is both uplifting and humbling to see my little brother — the guy I grew up with — taking this next step in his vocation,” Rick Williams said. “I certainly felt a lot of pride to see the reality of where God is leading him and how he is following. This is what Rhett has been called to do for six years, and seeing him become a deacon made it real. I’m happy for him and I’m happy for the Church.”
Over the next two weeks, Deacon Williams will attend the ordinations to the priesthood of one of his classmates plus Deacon Andrew Fryml, who will be ordained in Charleston on June 9. After that, he will spend his summer serving at St. Michael Church in Murrells Inlet.
Top photo: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone applauds Deacon Rhett Williams after ordaining him to the transitional diaconate on May 26 at St. Joseph Church in Columbia.