Emma and William “Peter” McKinney celebrate over 20 years service to their church and community.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Pillars of Attalla are receiving recognition for their honorable contributions on Sunday, April 25. Attalla #1 Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God Pastor William “Peter” McKinney joins his wife and the church’s first lady, Emma, for the 20th Annual Pastoral Celebration – emerging as two prominent figures in the church, united in their dedication to Christ and their community.
McKinney’s zealous love for the Lord proves lifelong. Raised in Attalla, McKinney frequented Mt. Calvary Baptist Church with his parents and siblings. While his family listened to the sermon at Mt. Calvary, McKinney’s ears drifted next door, captivated by the intriguing rhythm of drums and music that filtered throughout the air. Before long, McKinney’s curiosity drew him to the tiny church neighboring Mt. Calvary – the A.O.H. Church of God. As 10-year-old followed that enchanting sound, McKinney inevitably followed God’s greater purpose for his life, unknowingly walking the path that would lead him toward his future.
“Ever since I was a little boy, that preaching was in me,” said McKinney. “I was always preaching to somebody…always telling somebody about Jesus. I would go around to people’s houses and sit on their porch with my Bible and preach to them. I grew up like that.”
Sawdust floors and wooden benches became McKinney’s new home, with his mother often discovering him at the holiness church and tugging him back to Mt. Calvary. His interests resided with scripture rather than those of typical boys his age, earning him the affectionate nickname “Peter” in reference to the apostle Peter in the Bible, whose outspokenness and passionate nature McKinney shared.
McKinney spoke tenderly of Bishop W. L. James who pastored A.O.H. As a child, McKinney spent so much time in the church that he would often fall asleep on a bench, only for James to gently awake him and take him home. McKinney joked that whenever his mother hunted for him and found him at church, she could never scold him because she knew he was causing no harm. It was his aunt who sealed his family’s acceptance of McKinney’s calling. She said, “Let him alone – he’s staying out of trouble, and he’s going to be a preacher.”
McKinney flourished under the leadership of James, growing spiritually as he learned more and more about God’s word and applied it to his life. Orderly, punctual and caring, McKinney recognized his ordained purpose shortly after he accepted Christ as his savior and received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. His energetic and vocal personality heeded to his position as a deacon and later actively worked as the Sunday School Superintendent for his local church, district and state, earning him the moniker “Mr. Sunday School.”
During the 1960s, A.O.H. experienced a tumultuous season that tested McKinney’s faith. When a disruption rifted throughout the church, resulting in an exodus leaving McKinney as A.O.H.’s sole member, he found himself faced with a decision: follow God or follow the footsteps of others.
“I loved that little church and I wanted that church to grow,” said McKinney. “I thought one day, God would work a miracle through me. When the church was broken up, they all went home. The Bishop got up and asked, ‘Is anybody going to stay?’ I got up before the congregation and said that I wasn’t going anywhere. The Lord wanted me here.”
Through the departure of friends and family and the series of hardships that followed at A.O.H., McKinney remained resolute in his obedience to the Lord. He shared that he believed until he witnessed manifestation, noting that God always places individuals where He wants them and if they dwell in that safe place, the Devil cannot stop them.
Shortly those trying days, Elder Mary Estelle Washington arrived at A.O.H. from Cleveland, Ohio as the church’s new pastor. Under Washington’s wise guidance, McKinney learned the importance of witnessing and testifying to others to share the salvation message of Christ.
A.O.H. witnessed the resurgence of new membership. Tent revivals and street-wide sermons surged, with McKinney and Washington traveling door-to-door, spreading the miraculous gospel and God’s goodness.
“She was highly respected and an outstanding lady,” said McKinney, of Washington. “When she spoke, she was heard.”
Throughout the decades, McKinney’s service to his childhood church never faltered. He served in numerous capacities and roles, from licensed deacon, teacher and minister, to vice president and president of AOH Southern Regional Sunday School Conventions. McKinney’s efforts culminated in June of 2001, when the General Assembly of A.O.H. appointed McKinney pastor of the same church that nourished his 10-year-old soul, a position he never dreamed he would experience.
McKinney reflected on the wisdom he garnered throughout his years dedicating his life to the church.
“If God called you, I’ve learned you’ve got to stand still and learn that He is God,” said McKinney. “Sometimes, it gets hard, but if you know He’s called you, you’ve got to hold your head up and keep going. In the end, you’re going to make it. You’re going to have some trials, tribulations and tests. Sometimes, you’re going to break and think He hasn’t called you. But if you’re really in God, you will go through it and serving Him will pay off. You’ll have life with Him eternal.
McKinney’s journey is not one he voyaged alone. His wife, Emma, joined McKinney in a righteous union, their two independent personas working separately as powerful influences while uniting with one accord. The pair created an exceptional balance – demure Emma stood stalwart alongside McKinney as a studious teacher of the Bible, serving as a missionary and encourager to young women around her. Emma’s virtuous example inspired members of her own family to find Christ as she and McKinney raised a family in Attalla. McKinney and Emma continue adding unshakable layers to the foundation their marriage laid, sparking a lineage of righteousness and instilling the value and teachings of God in their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
One member of that rich lineage is Donald Morgan, McKinney’s grandson. Since McKinney and Emma only had daughters, as the sole grandson, Morgan and McKinney share a unique bond. Morgan cannot recall a moment in his life when he did not know his grandfather, who emerged as a prominent source of integrity and faithfulness for him, inspiring Morgan to follow God from an early age. His grandfather’s steadfast nature influence Morgan as he witnessed McKinney’s gift of magnetism, drawing people in with understanding and genuine concern for their souls. Morgan admires McKinney’s relatability, how Morgan shatters any barriers of age and speaks to people from his heart theirs.
“What I’ve learned from him is to always do right by others, no matter how they do you,” said Morgan. “Treat people right and right will always follow you. Sow good seeds, as [my grandfather] often says. You never know when you’re going to need somebody else. Always trust in the Lord and have faith. I’ve seen him persevere through many things, when my sister and myself lost our mom…through life’s trials. But he always comes out.”
Travel partners from Morgan’s toddler years, Morgan tagged alongside McKinney on various trips throughout Alabama, keeping him company and learning from him. Each year, the pair trekked “down home” to Alexander City in Tallapoosa County, where McKinney’s family originated. Morgan recalled one moment when his grandfather grew anxious on a trip to Fort Payne as they sat in traffic. Halted at the train tracks on their way to church, prompt McKinney could not fathom the concept of being late to church.
“He literally got out of his car and waved his hand and told the train to move,” said Morgan. “Of course, at that time, it was just miraculous to me that the train so happened to move. The train literally moved out of the way as his hand went. That was just the most spectacular thing to see as a little boy!”
Although McKinney’s efforts in the church are paramount, his devotion to his community abounds just as strong. An employee of Gadsden Regional Medical Center for over 40 years, McKinney participated in numerous civic involvements including serving as a board member of Norris High School’s scholarship foundation, a board member of Etowah County Food Bank, and both member and chairman of the Emancipation Proclamation Program Committee.
Coupling community with church, McKinney believes in extending God’s mercy and grace outside the congregation. His ceaseless volunteerism and generosity fostered seeds that blossomed into blessings not only for McKinney, but for Morgan, who shared that when he attended Alabama A&M University, he reaped the goodness his grandfather sowed. People who witnessed Morgan grow under McKinney would pay college fees for him or purchase gas for his vehicle. They would send care packages of food during test time and encourage him endlessly, all because of McKinney’s influence in their lives.
“All that had nothing to do with me,” said Morgan. “It was all because of him.”
McKinney’s servant heart continued to aid his community during COVID-19, when churches closed their doors. Morgan noted that while he grew up attending memorials and visiting hospitals with his grandfather, he never witnessed McKinney preach such a magnitude of funerals as during the pandemic. When families lost loved ones and were without pastors who could officiate their funerals, McKinney delivered service after service, preaching graveside eulogies for anyone who needed him, regardless if they were members of his own church or not.
Emma proved instrumental during the pandemic as well, sending cards out into the community with their telephone number and a message saying, “If you need prayer, I’ll pray for you.” Not a Christmas or Thanksgiving passes without Emma crafting care packages for nursing homes or neighbors, acts of kindness she extends to all who cross her path.
“I’ve had people come and tell me, when I was headed down the wrong path, your granddad is the one who encouraged me to turn around and told me I didn’t have to be living the life I was living,” said Morgan. “He looks out for everybody. He believes in doing what is right. He taught me how to grow up and be a Godly man and raise a family. To him, I would say thank you for the foundation, for the inspiration, for being an example. He has a name in Attalla that is unmatched. He’s been a family man, he’s been a faithful servant to the Lord. Even the great-grandchildren now are reaping [what he’s sown].”
The celebration of both McKinney and Emma at A.O.H. marks one milestone in a lifelong pursuit of ministry. For over 50 years, McKinney’s labor tended to God’s glorious vineyard, implementing the Lord’s lessons into his own life so that he might extend his knowledge to assist others. His incredible dedication to both his church and community emerge as a representation of God’s goodness, exemplified by a man who continues to fight the good fight of faith, every day of his life.
“I hope that I’ve said something to help somebody,” said McKinney. “What I’m doing is not about me. I’m not trying to do anything to get any recognition for myself. I’m out working for the Lord, so He gets the glory and He gets the honor. I’m his spokesman, that’s all.”