Pastor of Hamilton Mill Church in Hog Mountain resigns

LAWRENCEVILLE - The beleaguered pastor of a 152-year-old church has resigned.

Barney Williams presided over a controversial name change that turned Hog Mountain Baptist Church into Hamilton Mill Baptist Church in November. He left the church April 27, his 82nd birthday.

"I thought I needed a little relief," Williams said.

Williams sparked an outcry from older church members and the Gwinnett County Historical Society last year when members voted 21-7 to change the church's name. He said the decision was precipitated by the fact that hogs are considered dirty in the Bible, and said he had often been teased about the church's moniker.

The change had been in the works for five years, Williams said in November. He served two stints as the church's pastor, the second lasting 11 years. The associate pastor, Jeff Richards, will leave at the end of the month, member Pat Huddleston said. She said Richards told the congregation that he was not yet ready to have a church of his own.

Williams said he was surprised to learn that Richards would be leaving but thought the church was in a good place. This week, he said he is sticking by his decision to change the name from Hog Mountain.

"It's not related to the community no more," he said. "They're not naming none of them (schools) Hog Mountain. ... Nobody relates to the word Hog Mountain, young people don't. Let them name one of them (schools) Hog Mountain if they think so much of it."

Sue Williams stopped attending Sunday School classes at Hamilton Mill Baptist Church after the name was changed and said she heard from friends that attendance was down to 17 people at last Sunday's service. At the end of last year, there were about 75 active members and the pastor said about 60 members are active now.

She said the pastor's departure could be a good thing for the congregation.

"I think the church will grow since he left," she said. "Hopefully, there will be more members. This place is growing around here. Hopefully, some of those people will choose Hog Mountain Baptist Church."

Some former members are discussing the possibility of renaming the church again, now that Williams has left. Sue Williams, who is not related to the former pastor, said she would be in favor of the switch.

Steven Starling, president of the county's historical society, sent church members a letter Nov. 30 imploring them to keep Hog Mountain in the name. He said the society would consider sending another letter, now that Williams is gone.

"Maybe they will change the name back," he said. "I just wish they would change the name back. I hope they'll consider it."

Williams said if members want to change the name again, it's their business. But he thinks the new name will help attract members.

That controversy had nothing to do with his decision to retire, he said.

"Churches are always going to have controversy," he said. "You're not going to please the world."

Huddleston, who has been a member of the congregation for 12 years, said it was time for the reverend to step down.

"I think for his own, personal reasons, it's a good thing that he's leaving. His health is not as good as it was. It's a good time for him to retire," she said. "I'm sure we'll find another preacher. We always do."

While Huddleston said she would be sad to see Williams go, she was sure the church would carry on without him - whatever the name.

When she first moved to the area, Huddleston thought Hog Mountain was "funny-sounding." It has since grown on her, but she said changing it back again might not be a good idea.

"It's wishy-washy to switch back and forth," she said. "I thought Hog Mountain was an ugly name when I first heard it. I don't pay it that much attention any more."