Reverend William Charles Hamilton Jr.—known to parishioners as “Pastor Ham” or sometimes just “Pham”—has led a life of service for almost 50 years. As a younger man he spent 20 years in the United States Navy, and then nine more years as a naval shipbuilder.
But for the last 19 years he and his wife Victoria have served their community spiritually, the last 16 as pastors at St. John’s Lutheran Church, located in Jacksonville’s historic Springfield District. He chose to base his ministry here, he says, because the area so diverse—“reflective of the society in which we live.”
Pastor Ham says a big part of fostering diversity in his church and his community is wholeheartedly supporting the movement for LGBT equality. Specifically, he’d like to see Jacksonville expand its local Human Rights Ordinance to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. For him, this commitment is an extension of his lifelong calling to service.
“For twenty years as a military family, we sacrificed long separations to ensure that Americans could be treated fairly and just,” Pastor Ham explained. “We could not in good conscience stand by while there is the slightest possibility that one of our LGBT sisters and brothers can face discrimination in jobs and housing.”
He says that no matter what your personal belief system is, updating the law is a civil rights issue. Pastor Ham says everyone has the right to make a living and not fear that they’ll lose their job because of who they are or who they’re perceived to be. Qualifications should be the only determining factor.
Pastor Ham’s commitment to LGBT equality also grows out of his experiences growing up during the 1960s and 70s. According him, the struggles of today are not so different from the civil rights struggles of 40 years ago.
“The basic issue of equal rights for humankind was bubbling under the surface. That was the core of all the unrest and war. So that is the core for my support of standing with Jacksonville’s faith leaders, to help bring about equality for the LGBTQ community.”
He remembers that era’s national conversation about equal rights blossoming into protests against racial discrimination and the Vietnam war in his hometown of Detroit. People from all walks of life came together to demand change, and they succeeded. He’s counting on harnessing the same energy from the Jacksonville community to affect change today.