| ||Meet Harvesta Greene Williams|
CTR's Director of Religious Education (K-6)
By Gretchen R. Crowe
(This Profile originally appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald under the title ‘He makes a way out of no way’.)
A graduate of Lord Fairfax Community College, she received a Bachelor's in Religion in 1998 from Shenandoah University and a Master's in Pastoral Studies from Washington Theological Union in 2002.
Every Good Friday afternoon, between noon and 3 p.m., Harvesta Greene Williams maintains perfect silence, usually with Scripture in her lap. It’s a tradition passed onto her by her parents, especially her mother, who made her five children observe that sacred time of Jesus’ hanging on the cross and death without making a peep.
Observing that quiet time is just one thing Williams learned from her adult role models, who included not only her father, Norman, who worked two jobs to provide for his family, and her mother, Mary, a United Methodist who taught her children the Baltimore Catechism, but catechists and youth group leaders of her home parish of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Winchester.
Their influence has been so lasting that Williams, 60, has served in six Catholic churches — three in the Arlington Diocese — and has a desire to spread her love of Jesus to everyone she meets. But Williams’ life hasn’t been with out its bumps in the road, including an unplanned pregnancy and a zigzag career that tried to balance professional life with young motherhood. Through it all, she had a deep yearning to find Jesus in her life — and to keep Him there.
Winchester Born and Raised
Williams, the director of religious education (DRE) for kindergarten through sixth grade at Christ the Redeemer Church in Sterling, was born Jan. 2, 1951, in Winchester. The middle of five children, she attended Sacred Heart Academy and was influenced by the example of the nuns around her. The school, church and her family life all supported each other, and she received an encompassing sense of what it means to be Christian.
“It says something to me about that whole sense of community,” Williams said, speaking from a classroom in Christ the Redeemer’s religious education center recently. “The whole sense of ‘we are Church,’ although that’s not how they phrased it back then.”
Harvesta at Five
Harvesta and Her Brother and Sisters
From early on, Williams was fascinated with ministry and the Church. She attended Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) events in eighth grade, before she officially was eligible. She gleaned a love of Scripture from her mother, grandparents and aunt, who lived with her. All devout United Methodists, the older folks in her house were referred to as “the old saints,” and they read the Bible every night.
Strongly influenced by her parents, Williams watched them help desegregate city schools in Winchester. As a result, she said, her father never worked in Winchester again. Racism is often the “elephant in the room,” Williams said, adding that it is still alive in the world and the Church. The encouragement and example of her parents helped Williams and her siblings “constantly try to rise above it,” she said.
Impressed by her elementary school teachers at Sacred Heart, Williams thought, for a while, that she was called to be a nun.
“In my mind it was, ‘I want to serve God,’” she said. “And these women, that’s what they were doing.”
At some point, she realized a religious life wasn’t for her, but she still had a strong desire to serve God.
Williams would spend time with her catechists who sought — and listened to — her opinion.
“It made an impression on me,” she said. “I wanted to be able to further the Church, to further God’s word, to share what it means to be a Catholic Christian.”
An Unexpected Arrival
After graduating from John Handley High School in Winchester in 1970, Williams moved to Alexandria, but continued to volunteer on the weekends at her home parish. Working as a secretary in Washington, D.C., she would take the Greyhound bus to Winchester each weekend to work as a catechist and with the CYO.
From Alexandria, Williams moved to Richmond, but a year later she moved back to Winchester when she found out she was pregnant.
“My mother was devastated,” Williams said. But, she added, she was “very forgiving and loving.”
Williams had a difficult pregnancy, unable to work for the last few months until Christopher was born March 2, 1972. After her son’s birth, Williams hopped from job to job: a secretary in an emergency room, a librarian for the Central Intelligence Agency, a secretary in a lab hospital. Because she had never gone to college, her options were limited. All the time, with Christopher in tow, it was important for Williams to maintain a relationship with her Church.
Harvesta, Son Christopher
with wife Sherry and son Joshua
Feeling increasingly less at home at Sacred Heart, she began attending Mass at the former Franciscan Monastery in White Post (recently converted to the San Damiano Spiritual Life Center).
Then, when Williams was invited to a Life in the Spirit seminar at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Purcellville, she found what she had been looking for. Stepping inside St. Francis, “I could almost audibly hear an invitation,” she said. “I was drawn to that tabernacle.”
Even though it was more than a 30-minute drive to the new church, she decided to make the sacrifice to attend St. Francis, wanting more than anything to expose Christopher to a good parish life.
“People who don’t have a parish life leave — not just the Church but God,” she said. “I did not want that to happen to my son.”
At St. Francis, Williams became a lector and joined the liturgy team and one of the choirs. She became involved in religious education. Christopher became an altar server. She received spiritual direction from the pastor.
“At St. Francis, they knew something about community,” Williams said. “They just welcomed you with open arms. You were affirmed and it was lovely. It was an absolute blessing.”
St. Francis was her home from 1982 until 1999, and she ministered there as assistant director of religious education. In her professional life, she continued to move from job to job, working at an adult learning center, as a secretary in a Methodist church and, eventually, as a corrections officer for a local jail.
All the while, she watched her son grow and flourish. When Williams ruptured a disk in her back in 1994, she was physically unable to continue her job at the jail.
Harvesta and the light of her life, grandson Joshy
Williams enrolled in A graduate of Lord Fairfax Community College in Fauquier County “on a wing and a prayer,” she said — as well as a hefty financial aid package.
“I really felt in my spirit if the Lord opened this up for me that I was going to get through it and Jesus was going to make a way,” she said. “Because He makes a way out of no way.”
Williams graduated with an associate’s in philosophy and liberal arts in 1996. That fall she entered Shenandoah University in Winchester, where she earned a bachelor’s in religion in 1998. Still not done, she started at the WWashington Theological Union in Washington in the fall of 1998, living at the union and attending Mass at St. Martin of Tours Church in Washington, where she worked as director of liturgical education.
“I just felt like the Lord was saying, ‘You’ve done some work in the past, you’re going to be able to do some work in the future, but take some time now and just draw it in because this is My gift to you,’” she said of her time getting an education.
In 2002, she graduated with a master’s in pastoral studies and took a job as director of religious education at St. John the Evangelist Church in Waynesboro, Va. In 2006, wanting to move closer to home, she began working as DRE at Christ the Redeemer. Williams is thankful to God for staying with her at every step in her life — the worry and struggle and the joy.
“I really am grateful to the Lord, not only that I’ve made it to 60, but that He continues to sustain me and keep me going,” she said. “Jesus is everything to me. I thank God daily that I believe in Him, because I wouldn’t even want to guess what my life would be like if I didn’t.”
The greatest blessing of her life, Williams said, was her most unexpected one: her son, Christopher, who is now married with his own son.
“To watch him grow and to watch his interaction with his family and raising his son, it is such a major blessing in my life,” she said. “I am so proud of him.”
And Williams is grateful for the opportunity to simply minister — a vocation that follows her outside the walls of Christ the Redeemer, where she can influence others like she herself was influenced.
“Ministry doesn’t sit on a shelf or slow down after a certain time,” she said. “I need to carry (it) with me no matter where I go.”
Harvesta Greene Williams
Director of Religious Education (K-6) at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church
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