One of the gifts of living past sixty is coming to treasure the people who help you along the way; you see Christ in them, and remarkably enough, they see Christ in you! Bill Stough was one of the chief stewards of my life, ordaining me, first a deacon and then a priest.
Bill had this way of loitering by the door of this faith we share, lying in wait for the unsuspecting traveler. Even though we may not even have known at the time, we were looking for God, Bill knew. More importantly, Bill knew God was looking for us.
The day I wandered by tugged by the longing of my heart for home. One Sunday at Christ Church, Lexington, Kentucky, I knelt down to say my prayers before the Eucharist began and looking at the altar I suddenly knew this was my place and I wanted what I sensed there.
It was that very longing that drew me the day I made an appointment to meet with the Bishop of Alabama. We were seated and Bill, asked what I had come for, and I told him. He took me seriously, which the is the greatest gift one can give to another. My memory is that His Grace gave me the gift of two hours, an unheard of waste of a Bishop’s time. He told me candidly that many people seek ordination, more than he could employ. But he also said, “If you are still interested to come back in a year.” I left that day affirmed by the fellow who loitered by the door. I did go back a year later, and that story is for another posting.
I learned the most important things from Bill by watching him, especially when no one was looking at him. What was he like in the unguarded moments? He was a wise man, kind, direct and terrifying when righteously angry. I came across his blessing a couple of days ago. I share it with you because it tells you all you need to know about this man, whom I love(d). He said it always, in a small group in the woods or at the altar of his cathedral.
“Let us depart from this place in peace, and as we go on our way, forget not the poor, pray for the sick, make no peace with oppression, and love one another as Jesus has loved us. And the Blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and upon all God’s people this day and forevermore. Amen.”
– The Right Reverend Furman (Bill) Stough, Eighth Bishop of Alabama