Godair remembered as pastor whose impact stretched beyond Cornerstone Church

Published 1:04 am Sunday, December 12, 2021

SALISBURY — Bill Godair, a pastor whose impact stretched far beyond the walls of his Webb Road church, died Tuesday after a period of declining health. He was 63.

Godair was best known for building a diverse church that included an events center and child care business under its umbrella. He’s also described by those who knew him as a community advocate, a planner always thinking about what’s next and generous to people affiliated with Cornerstone Church, as well as others who were not.

In 2010, he received the Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Humanitarian Award.

During a celebration of life ceremony Saturday at Cornerstone Church, Executive Pastor Brandon Spiker told attendees and Godair’s widow, Tina, it’s time to “pick up the torch, pick up the legacy, pick up the vision and keep going for the generations to come.”

Godair was born Feb. 26, 1958, to Dalton and Shirley Godair and raised in St. Louis. Preaching since the age of 20, he moved to the Salisbury area in 1986 with then-wife Karen and kids. He was discouraged when he preached his first trial message in the Salisbury area to a congregation of seven, saying, “Pack up, we’re going back home.”

But he had one more sermon to preach here.

“That night in the service, I just felt compelled by God that this was where I was supposed to be,” Godair told the Post in a 1993 article.

About three days later, the church voted him in as pastor.

In 1993, Godair was leading the denomination’s fastest growing church — then called Cornerstone United Pentecostal Church. It grew from just seven members to a record attendance of 373 and attracted photographers from the national headquarters to film the services.

Three years later, Cornerstone moved to its current location off of Webb Road. The facility and congregation have grown significantly since then.

Today, widow Tina, who was wed to Godair in 1999, says her late husband was called to the Salisbury area to tear down the walls of traditional religion, racism and poverty. Because of Godair’s passing, Tina said the community lost someone with a good heart who was loyal to his people and community. He was a life-changer with a bold, impactful voice, she said.

She said his “unlimited compassion for people” was one of the reasons she fell in love with him. Tina said he was a visionary, too, who could look at a piece of property and picture what the completed product would look like.

“Even when it didn’t make sense to me, it made sense to him. And it always worked,” Tina said.

More recently, Godair and Cornerstone envisioned a mixed-use complex called “the Grove” in an area adjacent to Interstate 85 and N.C. 152 in the China Grove area. Prior to the selection of a site on North Main Street in Salisbury, Cornerstone Church was among options being considered by Rowan County commissioners for the Rowan-Salisbury Schools central office.

Liliana Spears said she initially was drawn to Godair and Cornerstone Church because of his interest in hosting Hispanic community events and finding other ways to collaborate. He didn’t ask people if they attended Cornerstone Church before offering his help. Eventually, she became a church member, saying his servant leadership was an example to her and that she made him feel at home in Cornerstone.

“I really believe we lost a tremendous man,” she said.

Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes said he and his family felt at home at Cornerstone after moving to Salisbury and visiting several churches. Stokes said Godair — called Bishop Godair by church members — was a servant to the community and had a heart for people.

“They were warm and welcoming,” Stokes said. “Because I was new to Salisbury, I’m not sure if they knew exactly I was the ‘new’ police chief when we started attending. Either way they didn’t let on and opened their arms and church to us.”

Godair in 2013 was stopped by police for speeding and claimed mistreatment during a press conference with the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP afterward. Stokes said Godair “forgave and forgot” the incident and became a founding member of the Chief’s Advisory Board.

During protests at the “Fame” Confederate monument in 2020, Godair volunteered himself and a group of pastors to provide any help needed. Stokes said he believes the presence of the pastors in the crowd helped calm those in attendance. The next night, when protests escalated and officers in riot gear deployed tear gas, the pastors were not present.

In a message posted online last week, Salisbury-Rowan NAACP President Gemale Black said the organization was deeply saddened by the death of Godair.

“His life and legacy will continue to transcend and impact the lives of Rowan County residents,” Black said. “We pray you find comfort and peace in the word of God.”

Stokes said Godair had a good sense of humor that he used to make people feel at home and made efforts to show people he appreciated them even in his last months of life.

“His passing leaves a hole in my heart,” Stokes said.

In addition to widow Tina, Godair is survived by his mother, Shirley; siblings Mike, Debbie and Tony; children Jonathan, Kristen, Bethany and Joshua; grandchildren, a great-granddaughter and a host of nieces and nephews.