Williams, who attends North Toronto Community Church, has been leading the Singing Pilgrims, a choir for retired and semi-retired men, for the past 15 years. It's a dedicated group—they give about 18 performances each year—and whether they're singing Down by the Riverside or Down From His Glory, there's no mistaking the enthusiasm in their voices.
Williams has been with the Singing Pilgrims since the group was founded by the late Major Bill Davies in 1994.
“Bill was at a Christmas sing-song at his condo building when he spotted a fellow with a nice tenor voice,” explains Williams. “That man, who belonged to a Baptist church, picked up four of his friends, and Bill picked up four of his Army friends and that was the nucleus of the group.” The choir quickly grew to 18 men and has been as large as 30 members.
Today, the group boasts 20 singers, as well as Williams and their accompanist, Donna Kearns. The choir continues to draw men from a variety of Christian backgrounds, with about half of the singers coming from The Salvation Army and the rest from other denominations.
For Williams, who was a Salvation Army bandsman for 65 years, the Singing Pilgrims provides an opportunity for him to do something he loves.
“It means a lot to me,” he says. “I like music and I like singing, so it's an outlet, seeing as I'm not playing anymore.”
But more than an opportunity to make music, the choir gives the men a chance to meet others and have fellowship.
“It's a nice group of guys,” says Lloyd Hayle, who has been singing with the group for more than five years. “They're friendly and down-to-earth, and they're all older men in my age group, so it makes me feel at home.”
“We have lots of laughs,” adds Ken Wakefield, who was invited to join the group by Hayle. Wakefield loves to sing, and he sees the choir as an opportunity to worship as well as fellowship.
“Man was created to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” says Wakefield. “God has given us voices to sing and to praise him.”
The ministry of the Singing Pilgrims is focused primarily, but not exclusively, on seniors, and so the men often perform for seniors' groups and at nursing homes and retirement residences throughout Toronto and beyond. But they also perform at churches, conferences and rallies, and hold an annual concert at Scarborough Citadel every May.
Hayle says that the performances at seniors' homes are especially meaningful for him.
“I know we're doing a service for the Lord by coming and singing for these people, especially when we go out to some of these outer areas, where there are folks who do not see a lot of people,” he says. “It makes a big difference.”