Dr. David Doran, pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church and President of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, read the following obituary at Dr. Rice’s memorial service:
On February 20, 1949, Dr. William R. Rice began his ministry as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Melvindale with words that would be characteristic of his four decades of ministry,
"With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible!" In our work in Melvindale, we will not have tapped God's resources until we have attempted the impossible. God is a God of the impossible. A praying and working church is going to make for fruitbearing in our community. The incredible, as far as man is concerned, is what we are looking for.
Possessed by a clear sense of direction and ambition for the Lord's work, Dr. Rice began that first week in Melvindale by the immediate organization of a Thursday-night visitation program. From that point forward, God's blessings were poured out in an abundant manner.
William Rollin Rice was born September 23, 1920, on a farm in the tiny community of Leesburg in western Pennsylvania. He learned early in life about work and responsibility, being the oldest of six children whose father died when he himself was only eleven years of age. Though the importance of attending church was stressed in his childhood, it was not until the summer of 1938, after graduating from Mercer High School, that he attended the Slippery Rock Bible Conference, heard the Gospel, and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Arrangements had been made for his entrance to a local college; but just before school was to open, he heard of Bob Jones College in Cleveland, Tennessee. Two days later, he was enrolled there and on his way. While Dr. Rice was in college, the Lord brought a young woman, Leontine Williamson, into his life. Born in Scotland, she had come to the United States with her family and settled in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. Dr. Rice completed his education at Bob Jones College, and on November 27, 1942, the Rices were married in Baltimore, Maryland. Their first home was in Wilmington, Delaware, where Dr. Rice attended Faith Theological Seminary. After one year, a transfer was made to Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana, where he completed his Bachelor of Divinity (1945), Master of Theology (1946), and Doctor of Theology degrees (1948).
In the midst of an ambitious seminary education, the Rices were blessed with the birth of a son, William Frederick, on December 18, 1944. In 1945, Dr. Rice accepted the pastorate of Berean Baptist Church, Belleville, Michigan, while still commuting to Winona Lake to work on his graduate studies. Late in November, 1947, Dr. Rice became ill. He was told that he had an extremely virulent form of cancer. After two major operations in three days to remove cancer from five locations where it had already spread, the Rices were told not to expect him to live, and that even if he should live, he would never walk again. But, by the grace of God, Dr. Rice was soon completely healed. Eager to continue the work given him by the Lord, he began immediately to teach Sunday school from a bed in his living room, as well as completing his doctoral thesis. On February 1, he returned to his pulpit ministry.
On February 20, 1949, fresh from having seen God do the impossible, Dr. Rice began his ministry at the First Baptist Church of Melvindale, Michigan, with a wholehearted belief that God was able to do all that He promised. Dr. and Mrs. Rice's ministry began with an average morning attendance of ninety, but the rapid growth of the congregation led Dr. Rice to seek a place to expand. The First Baptist Church of Allen Park, Michigan, a group of twelve people, owned a choice piece of property, but had no building. The Lord worked so that the two churches merged under the leadership of Dr. Rice, and the new church was called Inter-City Baptist Church to represent the merging of the churches in the two cities.
In July, 1950, ground was broken for the "new" Inter-City Baptist Church. An auditorium capable of seating 700 people seemed staggering for this small congregation to attempt; nevertheless, Dr. Rice in these few months led his people, under God's direction, to take the first steps of incredible growth. Through the faithful labor of pastor and people, Inter-City Baptist Church dedicated its new home on March 11, 1951. The church experienced tremendous growth, and in 1952 an addition was built to accommodate Sunday school classes. By 1956, a second addition was begun. Dr. Rice encouraged his people in their steps of faith and again evidenced a God-given ambition. As he said at that time, "It was a vision of a bright future in Christ which brought Inter-City into existence originally. Nothing else could account for this miracle of God, but these victories have not dulled our vision; they have whetted it."
Before long, the new building and its two additions were not large enough to accommodate the growing church. A piece of property across the street was purchased; and on March 15, 1964, the congregation moved into its existing church building. That morning 1500 were in Sunday school and 1800 attended the dedication service.
Burdened by the necessity for his people to know God's Word that they, in turn, might be effective witnesses, much of Dr. Rice's ministry centered on the expositional preaching of the Bible. Spurred by this burden, Dr. Rice consistently urged personal study of the Word and initiated ministries which would ground the people of Inter-City, both children and adults, in God's Word.
Concerned by the materialistic and humanistic atmosphere in the public schools, the people of Inter-City Baptist Church had voted several years before to open a Christian school. Although this vision was not immediately realized, in September, 1966, God brought the plan to fruition. For thirty years the school has been instrumental in training young people to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
Not content to impact only the lives of the young, Dr. Rice led the church to undertake the ambitious task of ministering to senior citizens through a specialized retirement home. The Inter-City Christian Manor was opened for occupancy in May, 1972, and it was dedicated in June, 1972. Although I believe it is accurate to say that the Manor proved to be one of the greatest challenges of Dr. Rice’s ministry, God used it in many people’s lives and, ultimately, has allowed the church to advance the cause of Christ globally.
Because of the unchristian character of much of the material published in the name of Christianity, Dr. Rice became quite burdened that the members of his flock, as well as other Christians in the surrounding area, be able to buy sound, scriptural materials. After some years of prayer and preparation, he led the church to establish the Inter-City Christian Bookstore in 1972. This new ministry was dedicated as a service to Christians and as another means of reaching the lost with the gospel.
The culmination of the incredible growth of Inter-City Baptist Church's ministries came in 1976 when the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary was founded. Having received a solid seminary education in a strong fundamentalist institution, he was convinced of its necessity in the life of a pastor who is committed to faithful exposition and strong pastoral leadership. Dr. Rice's pursuit of the doctor of theology degree for a possible ministry in teaching now was used of the Lord in the founding of a seminary committed to combining a solid theological education with an uncompromising commitment to separatist fundamentalism.
On September 10, 1989, after forty years of serving as the pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church, Dr. Rice retired. Dr. Rice's relentless pursuit of God's will was honored with a fruitful ministry which continues to build on the solid foundation laid throughout the four decades of his leadership.