We?ve lost some leaders recently. Here is my reflection a few weeks ago at the memorial service for Dr. William C. “Bill? Howland.
William C. Howland
A Reflection by Sharon E. Watkins
April 7, 2012
It is an honor to be here today to share in this time of remembrance with family and friends of William Charles Howland, Jr., and to celebrate and give thanks for the life of this gifted child of God. I bring greetings on behalf of a grateful Church, with whom you shared your husband and father for so many years.
As I think about Bill Howland, the phrase that keeps popping into my head is ?larger than life.? I don?t know if people talk that way outside of novels, but to me, Bill Howland was just that ? larger than life!
When he entered a room ? no ? Bill didn?t just ?enter? a room. When he swept into a room ? you knew it. And not in an ?oh, look at me? kind of a way.
Not at all.
No, he possessed such a joyful energy, such a love of life, such a love of the people around him, that his presence quite simply filled the room.
Big gestures, big smile, big bear hugs ? and creative, positive, moving-toward-a-goal energy and intention.
No wonder he was tapped to serve alongside Ken Teegarden and Howard Dentler in the Office of the General Minister and President ? three great leaders.
Bill was the consummate relationship builder in a Church that depends 100% on relationships. A task force to visit all the Disciples colleges? A challenge in a region? A celebration in a congregation? Bill went on behalf of us all. He was an astute and engaging preacher who reflected deeply on the intersection of scripture with the important matters of the day ? and also made it poignant and applicable. He was always welcomed with open arms.
During those days in Indianapolis, he enjoyed his ministry ? had a lot of fun with that task force ? probably the ring leader of some really good times! ? But he was gone a lot from family. And (some say) seemed ready to get back to congregational ministry when the call came, to get back to those deeper relationships beyond the ceremonial, beyond putting out fires.
So he returned to congregational ministry ? to the surprise of some. Not just any congregation, of course, but to the congregation known as the national cathedral of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) National City Christian Church ? in those days rather gloomy (at least, according to one teen ager who didn?t want to make the move.) But he worked his magic there: renovation of sanctuary, construction of buildings, fine organ with its Howland Tuba stop, columbarium, and the invitations to the wider church to join making National City a truly national church.
He knew how to mark an occasion! Whether it was a congregation?s 100th anniversary while he was Deputy GMP, or as National City pastor, taking off his shoes and walking down the aisle at the dedication of the renovated sanctuary, doing the whole service in stocking feet. (?Standing on holy ground? he said!) Or, while serving as chair of the board of trustees at Phillips Theological Seminary, doing something so simple as sending a pink Azalea plant to the home of a new Director of Financial Aid and Community Life on her first day of work (that random young director being me so many years ago, and as you see, I never forgot it) Bill Howland knew how to mark an occasion.
And to make others feel special. He could stand in pulpit and remember the name of every person out there and say something about them. He remembered you.
It was just another sign that within that big presence and big embrace was a big heart for inclusion. From his early days preaching racial justice and nearly being burned out by the KKK, to building a multi-cultural and inclusive congregation at National City, reaching out to the neighborhood around the church and encouraging us all in the wider Church to do the same. He led in opening the congregation to gay and lesbian persons ? at some risk to the church and his time there. Together Bill and Ann stood up for their belief in a loving God who loves all people. They maintained that belief and demonstrated it in their actions.
Bill Howland, larger than life. A great fund-raiser, lover of music, rooting for the underdog in any game (unless the Long-Horns were playing!) and yet at home with Washington dignitaries or neighborhood kids, leader and friend. Bill was a faithful servant who believed in a God of love, a God of abundant possibility. And that?s the way he lived. And that?s the way he served. And the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gives thanks for him.