The Bible Way Church was packed -- the women in hats, the men in suits -- by the time the choir swung into "I Don't Feel No Ways Tired":
"Nobody told me the road would be easy . . ."
They finished the song, but the organist was still playing. Bishop Smallwood E. Williams was at the microphone:
"We dedicate this to Jimmy Carter . . ."
A few minutes later, Bishop Williams, the "man with a message" -- as Elder Felton Wright introduced him yesterday morning -- was delivering his message:
"The Lord revealed something to me. The Lord revealed to me that President Carter has not finished his work. The job was so great, God said the man needed more time."
Williams told his listeners, "Our efforts Tuesday should be to put feet to our prayers -- go to the polls; to put hands to our prayers -- vote. Be a good citizen as well as a saint."
And so went a campaign speech -- of sorts -- from the pulpit of this Pentecostal church at 1100 New Jersey Ave. NW, where hundreds of members from all over the city had gathered promptly for the 8 a.m. service -- and that's the second service of a day filled with them.
Bishop Williams is a vocal 73-year-old, whose fiery voice blasted through the church, leaving goosebumps on the arms of the listeners.
He quoted from 28th chapter, 20th verse of Isaiah: "'For the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself on it and the cover is narrower than a man can wrap himself in it.' This is Governor Reagan's problem," Williams told the churchgoers. "Reagan's political bed is shorter than he can stretch himself on. In an attempt to cover his head, his feet stick out! In an attempt to cover his feet, his head sticks out! He suggested making Social Security a volunteer program. Now he's gonna make your feet stick out." A low ruffle of laughter swept through the church.
"His head sticks out when I see his right-wing supporters," said Williams.
"I'm from Lynchburg, Virginia, too -- born there in 1907. I carried a paper route. We had to sit down on a long bench and they'd give the white boys their papers first so they could go out and get a head start and sell their papers. We sold the leftovers." Williams was bellowing. "Where was the moral majority THEN?"
And before the service was over, Williams told his audience, "I'm going to ask you to pray for the president . . . pray that God will be with him.Sister Breaker will lead us . . ."
Everyone stood and joined in a slow gospel song, "For You, I Am Praying."
Gil Henry walked soberly out into the chill morning air after the service. "He spoke nice, but it don't sway me," said Henry. "When people get home they have to think about something else -- how they're going to take care of their families. Personally, I think Carter hasn't kept alive the promises he's made. A lot of people are out of work." Henry is a office manager for a graphic arts firm in Maryland, and still undecided.
"Immaculate," came the reaction from Oliver Welch, a federal government employe, after the service.
Many were already Carter supporters before they got to church. "I enjoyed the sermon," said one, "I had my mind made up before, though."
Williams' service is broadcast live on WYCB-AM.In addition, it goes to the Richmond, Va., area and to Baltimore. "It should be helpful in Richmond," said Williams, who wears a large gold crucific on a long chain around his neck, after the service. "That's a critical state."
Preaching about politics is perfectly fine with him. "I've been interested in social justice all my life," he said, his voice weak from the morning preaching. "I'm not running for anything or from anything."
Colleagues who endorsed Reagan came in for their share of contempt.
"You know the standing joke -- Abernathy endorsing Reagan," said Dawkins, sitting in Williams' office, " is like the chicken endorsing Col. Sanders."
It's not that Williams has no doubts about Carter. "I just think he should pull this one out."