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William Reyes, 56, pastor of second chances

He grew up using and selling drugs in North Philadelphia.

THE JUDGE laid it on the line.

Looking down at the abashed young man with a rap sheet of drug crimes, he must have seen something in William Reyes that either escaped the attention of or was ignored by cops and prosecutors, who slapped him in prison.

Common Pleas Court Judge Marvin R. Halbert was inclined to give this young man, who was facing more jail time, a second chance. But he was in no mood to take any unnecessary risks.

He made it clear to William Reyes that if he gave him another chance and he flunked it and returned to his courtroom, he would see to it that the kid would be a doddering old man before he would see the light of freedom again.

Willie Reyes - as he was called by his pals in North Philly - saw the light of opportunity. He decided then and there to turn his life over to the service, rather than the exploitation, of his fellow man.

He enrolled at Valley Forge Christian College, took a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry, and never looked back.

William Reyes became a pastor who never lost his belief in second chances. He preached it and lived it.

Unfortunately, his early drug use led to hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver, which caused his death Dec. 15 at age 56. He was living in Fontana, Calif.

Among his pastorates was the Church of Second Chances in Ontario, Calif., where repentant sinners are dunked in a lake and cleansed of their depredations.

In June 2014, William traveled day and night for three days from California to Philadelphia to plead with a judge to give a second chance to the son of a friend. The judge was moved by William's plea, and by the fact that he traveled so far to make it - and granted the request.

In the early 1990s, William became involved in the Angel Tree project of the Prison Fellowship, which provides help for the children of inmates, including giving them Christmas presents that they otherwise would not have received, and keeping up with them throughout the year.

William established an Angel Tree project at Valley Forge while he was a student there. He described one experience he had with a family to Inquirer reporter Tanya Barrientos in December 1993:

"I went into one home and both the parents were in prison and the kids were with their grandmother. She started to cry because we had come and she said that she wasn't going to give up on her son."

William said he got emotional whenever he saw the Angel Tree children get Christmas presents they hadn't expected.

"I know that what the kid is feeling in his heart is that feeling of intimacy and joy from a parent they can't see," he said. "That's the best gift a parent can give a child, even if they can't be there to give it in person."

There's no doubt that William Reyes saw much loneliness and many a tragic experience in his own time in the criminal-justice system, which gave him a special empathy.

William was born in Philadelphia to William and Miriam Reyes. He hit the streets early and dropped out of Jay Cooke Junior High School. Then followed time in juvenile and, eventually, adult detention. At one point, a judge sent him to the Job Corps.

Nothing seemed to work until Halbert gave him a second chance.

Longtime friend Edwin Colon said he met William when they were teens growing up in North Philadelphia.

"His circle of friends were always older and he took pride in his style of dress," Colon said. "He had a reputation of being popular with the ladies as well. He hung out in the 15th and Venango and Ninth and Pike Streets neighborhoods."

After graduating from Valley Forge, William went to Ashland (Ohio) Theological Seminary and received a master's degree in clinical pastoring counseling.

Over the years, he led congregations in Ohio, New York, and California. He was studying for his doctorate in clinical psychology at the time of his death.

"William experienced the most joy in life conducting God's work," his family said. "Whether it was mentoring youth, guiding people to recovery, or counseling a fellow brother or sister in Christ, he made himself available to all he knew in need.

"His unwavering commitment to assist people and share the Lord's love and word resulted in countless transformed lives."

He is survived by daughters Carissa, Elysia, Keziah, Eliana, and Noemi; his mother, Miriam Vera; sisters Zoraida, Evelyn, Cindy, and Maria; brothers Raymond, Ivan, and Herman; and three grandchildren.

Services were Tuesday. Burial was in Greenmount Cemetery.