Early this summer, my friend and co-worker for God’s peace and justice, Dr. Bruce Williams died unexpectedly while visiting with his in-laws in London. I’ve been asked to share some memories for his memorial service this coming weekend (Sept. 8th) in Decatur, IL.
When I first arrived as Associate Minister of Central Christian Church in Decatur, Bruce was sponsoring the Junior Youth Fellowship which gave him the opportunity to share his gift of youthful energy with children as they developed their faith. Bruce loved children and he put that love into action in his life. He was the “tickle man” for my sons when they were small. Josh and Nick always looked forward to seeing him on Sundays. He often served as a mentoring elder for candidates for baptism. I adored his energetic interest in every child of every age he mentored, officially and unofficially. Bruce believed in the importance of a quality education for all children and was a tireless presence in our after-school efforts in the community. He was ready to do whatever it takes to help every child he met reach their full potential.
Bruce believed in the call of our Lord to serve one another, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. He approached every mission project, I was fortunate to work with him on, with a can do spirit. Whether we were serving together at Oasis Day Center or Good Samaritan Inn, volunteering for Dove or parking cars for Miracle Day, Bruce showed up, gave his best, and brought joy to the day. He was a powerful advocate for the Central Emergency Fund and was ready to help continue this important community outreach when staff transitions called for members to administer the fund responsibly with compassion. Bruce also had the gift of hospitality, which he shared in our every effort to engage the neighborhood of Central, and with those who worshiped with him, even if he disagreed with you on any given issue. He knew the power of God’s love, grace and acceptance in his own life and he shared it freely whether he was driving members to church, challenging you to think outside the box or inviting neighbors to experience his community of faith.
Bruce had a passion for God’s justice and was always encouraging people of faith to hear the prophetic voice of Jesus. Whether he was driving the bus to bring Decatur folks to an action or meeting in Bloomington, Peoria or Springfield, or organizing folks to hold state and local authorities accountable to the people they were elected to serve, or serving as founding member and chair of Central’s Peace & Justice Task Force, or raising meaningful questions at Just Flicks, or participating at Conversations on Race at Millikin University, I was privileged to witness his care for fairness, his determination to do the right thing, his gentle yet powerful way of speaking truth to power, his faithfulness to the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and his love for those whose voices are often unheard. I am fortunate to have experienced the encouragement and support of such a friend and co-worker for justice. Bruce never wavered in his support of the public ministry to which I am called. I could always count on Bruce to have my back when working for justice and I was blessed to stand with him!
Perhaps the moments I will treasure most were the countless late evening, after the meeting or study session, conversations we enjoyed. The dialogues were so common, our family schedule was set by them. Teri knew that if Bruce was involved in whatever my evening calendar had on it, she would see me the next day. I remember this being somewhat the case for Felicity as well. Bruce was a serious student of faith and loved a good conversation. Bruce and I solved every challenge the world is capable of creating. We dug deep into faith, explored the infinite possibilities of science and the universe, debated our political and economic ideas, found common ground in our desire for the community Christ calls us to be and shared our deep longing for God’s realm of peace for all of creation. We grew together in our faith and our resolve to be disciples of Jesus who proclaim and act for God’s love for all of creation. I am grateful beyond measure for those hours, and yes I mean hours of conversation.
Bruce was a present help whenever we needed him. Three times, he helped my family move our home. He always arrived with a smile and with endless energy. When we brought our first pet home, Bruce was there to help us care for the newest member of our family.
Bruce knew and embodied the command of God spoken through the prophet Micah,
and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with the Lord. (6:8)
I am humbled and honored to have known Bruce and Felicity as one of their ministers. The Decatur community has been privileged to have such a spirited man in their midst. Central Christian Church has been blessed by a good and faithful servant of the Lord. May God’s peace be with you dear friend. And, may your legacy of faithfulness shine upon our way as we serve the one whose love knows no end. Amen.