For quite some time, I have heard the name Bill McElvaney around the United Methodist circles that I run. A strong voice for social justice, Bill was someone who let nothing temper his voice or actions. Whether it was marching with Civil Rights advocates in the 60’s, advocating against the death penalty, protesting the decision to place the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the grounds of Southern Methodist University or to stand up for marriage equality, Bill’s words and deeds were ever present.
In June, I was honored to have been asked to speak at the Church and Society luncheon at the Annual Conference for the North Texas Conference. As I awaited that day to talk, the small room grew hot as it filled up with attendees. Additional, my own temperature rose as two speakers making announcements chose this opportunity to give their own presentations. The 35 minutes I had planned for were quickly dissolving into 15-20. A little frustrated and a bit angry, I looked out into the audience and spotted Bill. Not only did this man create an impact on United Methodist history, he made an impact when he entered a room! He exuded grace and kindness. His presence had a way of refocusing my attention to what was important…and that wasn’t my own ego. The shortened presentation might not have been my best but the spiritual centering brought on by Bill’s attendance at this event made me a better person.
Life in the Gonzales household went on during the remainder of the summer. Two capital murder trials in El Paso, one ending in a death sentence, the other ending in a conviction of a lesser-included crime and a term sentence. There was little time to think about that Church & Society luncheon. I did, however, think about Bill.
I received updates of his health situation. I read the letter about the family’s decision to stop treatment. I received news of his passing.
This past Monday, I attended a memorial service for Rev. Dr. William McElvaney. I arrived about an hour before the start time of the service and the seats at Northaven United Methodist Church had already begun to fill. The sanctuary was full by the 2:00 service. As speaker after speaker eulogized Bill, the building’s air conditioning system tried its best but had trouble keeping up with the August heat and humidity of North Texas.
It occurred to me, during that memorial service, that Bill hasn’t finished teaching me a thing or two about my faith walk. Bill withstood the heat of many challenges. Just like steel, we are often made stronger by the forging heat of our trials and tribulations. Bill’s life was an example of what it means to walk in faith.
Bill, I only met you in passing, but I believe I knew your heart. You showed all of us how to live a life of faith, regardless of what some might say or do to you. You risked everything along the way…job, reputation, pension and so much more, because it was the right thing to do. You had a way of making people feel the heat that controversy stokes and that heat forged us into becoming the best we can be. You might be gone, but you’re not through with us yet. Your legacy still touches everyone that knows of your good work and carries it on, now and into the future.