The Gathering of the Saints Celebrated at Memorial Service
PEORIA – For retired Bishop William B. Lewis, the memorial service at the 2013 Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference was a homecoming.
Elected in 1988 to the episcopacy from the former Southern Illinois Conference, Lewis, as a general superintendent of the church has his membership in the Council of Bishops. And so a return to where his ministry began was especially meaningful.
“I would like to thank Bishop Keaton for this invitation,” Lewis said. “As I looked down the list of persons, I knew one half of them personally and they were friends.”
The title of Lewis’ remarks – The Gathering – was based upon a book by Bernard Wesiberger, They Gathered at the River – which chronicles the impact of the revival and camp meeting movement on religious life in America.
“The revival and camp meeting are in our bones as Methodists,” Lewis said. “And so we gather today.”
Turning to the apocryphal book, Ecclesiasticus, and a familiar responsive reading from the 1964 United Methodist Hymnal, Lewis noted that we gather to honor ordinary people. He underscored from the text the lines, “There are some who have no memorial and their name lives to all generations and the congregation proclaims their praise.”
“To those who shared the ties – God bless them all…be thankful for them,” he said.
And speaking directly to the pastors and spouses remembered, Lewis said he spent 14 years discerning appointments of pastors and churches (six as a district superintendent, eight years as bishop). “Today, I want to say thank God, not just for the first stringers, but those that were willing – who truly felt called and willing to go where they were sent,” he said.
One of the rewards which come from serving God is stated in Psalms 16, “The lines have fallen in pleasant places.”
“What a great time to be alive,” Lewis said, noting that since World War II, no people anywhere has had it so good as we have in the United States.
Part of what facilitates the “pleasant places” is God’s grace.
“I am thankful for the (Methodist) theology of grace,” he said. “Admittedly, we haven’t always lived up to it. We compromised on slavery, we oppressed women for a long time as well as our Native American brothers and sisters. But underlying our theology is grace – a grace that is abundant, all-inclusive and generous.”
Referring to the recent movie, 42, that chronicles the story of pro baseball player Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, Lewis quotes Harrison Ford, who portrays Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. Rickey responds when asked why he was signing a Negro to an all white major league, “He’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. God’s a Methodist!”
But part of God’s grace also extends to us in that we have a companion on the journey to heaven.
“God wraps his arms around us and takes us home,” Lewis said. “We don’t have to cross Jordan alone.”
Forty-one IGRC pastors and spouses and four laypersons were remembered in the reading of the Roll of the Dead.