Monday, October 22, 2012

Influences- David Bills

David Bills arrived as pastoral minister at New Garden Friends Meeting just slightly before I did in 1972.  It would be several months later before I really came to know him, but there were a number of things about David that stood out to me immediately.  My experience with pastors to that point had been very limited, but the ones I had known had seemed quite serious and even a bit scary.  David was just the opposite.  He didn't tell us to call him Rev. Bills or Pastor Dave or any other formal title- just David.  He was quick with a smile or a joke that really helped put this young teenager at ease as I tried to settle back into "church" after my family's extended absence.  And he really cared about all of us in the youth group.

I remember riding with David on a trip up to Sam Levering's orchards and encountering a car with car trouble.  We stopped and looked under the hood, all of us clueless about what we might be looking for.  David leaned in and said (and 30+ years later I can hear it as clearly as if were yesterday) "I see the problem.  The flange hammer is stuck on the McGuffy box, so your flu-flu valve is not working properly."  We all looked at him and then exploded in laughter, understanding he was saying what we all thought- we would be no help in this matter.  As usual, David put us all at ease.

New Garden Friends Meeting was a very eclectic place, with people of all ages and many places along the theological spectrum.  David always knew how to challenge us all.  He taught us about the Bible, about social justice, about Quakerism and about what it means to truly follow Christ. When people criticized him for allowing his son Jeff to wear his baseball hat in worship, David taught us all by explaining how Jeff would take the hat off himself when he understood he was in the presence of God.  And sure enough, Jeff did just that!  In a place where biblical literacy was sometimes questionable, I remember him delivering a message one Sunday from the book of 2 Heziciah.  Many were surprised at the conclusion to discover there in no such book, and the lesson of how easily the uneducated can be misled in the name of God was not lost on anyone.  I used that same trick many times over my years in student ministry.   In fact, David always encouraged me to think outside the box during my years as youth leader at New Garden.  He supported all of us, and always had my back, even when I was wrong.  He and his wife Jean opened their home for a weekly gathering of Guilford College students, where they fed us and helped us cope with life, and those meals were some of my favorite times with some amazing friends.  Later on he was a strong supporter when I applied for a position in New England Yearly Meeting and when I went to Springfield Friends Meeting.  He was one of the pastors who presided over mine and Marilyn's wedding.  And when we wanted to have a memorial service for my Dad years later, he graciously opened New Garden for us.  He loved me when I was a failure and a success; he modeled the love of Christ for me even before I understood what that was.

But my lasting memory of Dave Bills will always be from our rehearsal dinner.  As the large party set around tables, dressed fairly formally and toasting us with champagne, a commotion arose from David's table.  We looked to see he had a table spoon dangling from his nose.  My Dad followed his example, and before long the whole atmosphere of the room had changed with people trying to dangle spoons from their noses.  David Bills is still pastoral minister at New Garden all these years later, and I would guess he is still teaching, still encouraging, and still finding ways to make everyone feel welcome and at ease.  Pastors can be so pompous and self-important, seeking to separate themselves from the flock they attend.  But just try being pompous with a spoon hanging on your nose!  Thanks David.  You continue to be an influence in my life.

Because of Jesus,

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