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Justice, Reconciliation, and More: Bill Warner

October 11, 2018

Bill Warner was a colleague I wish I’d gotten to know better. I’m guessing you’ll wish the same thing when you finish reading this today. 

The bulk of what follows was written by real life friend and colleague Bob Morewell.  It’s introduced by his wife, Nina, and it’s with the gracious permission of them both that I share this with you here —

Still a bit heart-sore after the funeral of Bill Warner [Tuesday, October 9th, 2018]. It was at his home that I met Bob, and the rest, as they say, is history. Here are Bob’s remarks from the funeral yesterday:

The first time I ever took to this, or any other pulpit, was at Bill Warner’s invitation. The next time I preached from here, it was my mother’s funeral, which Bill and Normagene attended. My Mom and Bill often worked together and shared a ferocious commitment to caring for the dismissed, the discarded, and the dispossessed. The least of these….

It was that commitment which brought him here. He was moved to Carbondale after receiving death threats while serving in the violently racially polarized community of Cairo where he made a bold stand for justice and reconciliation. Concepts which everyone lauds, until they are called to face themselves and make difficult changes. Bill Warner was always such a prophetic voice, even when it cost him. Because that’s what prophets do when they truly follow Jesus.

It was that fearless honesty which I admired, and which inspired me to follow him into the ministry.

He gave it his all, even though the church was not always grateful. Following the death of Stephen and their home burning down, one member of a church he was then serving, whose concept of the Gospel was a gaggle of graceless rules and fiery threats, suggested to him that the terrible misfortunes which had befallen him were somehow the work of a god who was displeased with his less pharisaical take on the message of Jesus.

His response, though blunt, was probably more gracious than many of us could have conjured from such pain. He simply responded, “Then you’re saying God is a murderer and an arsonist?”

That was NOT his God. Not a god of petty vengeance, but a God of expansive, redemptive grace.

Bill Warner took the Gospel both seriously and joyously. He could be painfully honest but also delightfully funny and goofy. Purveyor of corny jokes and puns he knew were dreadful (some of which he got from my father-in-law). He also drove the most ridiculous car in history. Did you see the Iseta?!?

He understood the holy and could be thoroughly irreverent. For those of you familiar with the comedy series, I’m sure you will not be surprised that he and Normagene introduced us to “The Vicar of Dibley.”

He was unfailingly kind. Passionately interested in the world, long after many people of his age fall into disinterest and detachment. He possessed a keen mind, as well as a great heart, and he gave them both to God.

Now, he has brought me back to this place. The last funeral I attended here was with him, for Normagene, 25 years to the day after my mother’s. And, here I am again in this pulpit where he first placed me. His influence and his spirit abide. And his work goes on.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you. We’ll take it from here.

  By the grace of God, may we indeed “take it from here.” Amen.

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