A Profile: Reverend Will

In the time of Covid dreary we come, our eyes gone bleary as we grow bored of the virus’s march. Leery of a return to normalcy and ill prepared to answer the query: who is prepared to step into the breech on behalf of the sick, the dying, the sniffling, the wheezing, the spiritually spent, those behind in the rent, the aimless, the forgotten, and the weary? Who is prepared to administer the Scripture’s balm in the form of the 23rd Psalm to those seeking to lie down in green pastures and snuggle beside still waters in their struggle to find their way. As we look for the demon’s cure, who amongst shall take up the cause of the poor whose numbers seem sure, destined to expand and endure?

Benefactors are standing by, but their numbers will soon grow shy (by one), to a shaky system’s dismay, coming to the Shenandoah Valley on the 31st of May. There, the Reverend Will is standing down, and who shall don the robe, the cross and the crown, and declaim, O Precious Lord, Show Me the Way? The lure of retirement at 67 from the Lord’s formal service has left the system nervous although confident that his shoes at Sunnyside will be adequately filled by a young replacement.

But the Reverend Will’s bio as a chaplain is 40-years lifetime strong, covering not only right from wrong but also his legendary devotion to helping the aging suffer through the sorrowful emotion of loss. And his weekly Sunday message is filled with humor, modesty, reminiscence, family connection...and hope. As well as talk of the Cross.

Advancing to the status of a Character, at Sunnyside he shuffles about the podium, long arms flailing like Dennis Rodman, reaching, stretching, beseeching, his penetrating dark eyes masked by heavy brows suggesting hints of paintings of abolitionist John Brown. His passion is, though, not slavery or a political agenda, however meritorious, but love and faith in God’s power to provide a plan to assist us. The Reverend Will has seen the coming of the Lord in many thousands of different ways, which in the flowery vernacular of his pronounced North Carolina twang he portrays.

Experience has made him skeptical of the very notion of coincidences. Upon graduation from UNC-Charlotte and casting about, Will came upon an electrician who reported that he had had a dream that Will was going to Seminary. Uncertain, Will applied to a seminary in Louisville, where the interviewer replied that I hope you’re coming, but because I’ve sent you bus tickets from my own funds, and I’l meet you with Moose, my dog who, if he approves of you, will smile. And I’ll be be on roller skates. Who wouldn’t have become attracted to God’s Plan as a passing pawn, working his way through seminary, no job too menial, painting houses and mowing the lawn.

After graduation, he served as pastor of five churches in rural woodsy Wisconsin, where he was known as the Bathroom Pastor for his controversial efforts to add a john to the house of prayer.

Too many times have the odds covered, too many times have the sound of the closing door been matched by that of the opening, too many times has the overdue rent check arrived steps ahead of the repossessor. In Will’s view, God’s will plus faith is a living device. Particularly when one is working with the primarily black elderly homeless, which he did in Hampton for 17 years in a church community program. So successful was the enterprise in executing a money-saving medical program, that the program was bought out—and in irony the workers replaced with less expensive help. That included Will. Job hunting at 63, the creaking door was barely audible until after the fourth interview at Sunnyside. Luck’s stroke? Or God spoke.

Invoking self-deprecating humor in an endless stream, his memory calls up life’s challenges. In the sixth grade, the boy who sat behind Will was to become a famous race car driver but then carried a switchblade and chawed tobacco on the side. When he bade young Will to cover the sound of spitting with a pronounced COUGH, young Will did abide.

Preferring a different channel for his enabling, he drifted toward the world of chaplaincy, a special calling that includes but goes beyond carrying the ministry of Christ. It involves working with a person, often non-religious, and typically offering a listening presence, to develop a spiritual care plan to empower the person to deal with powerlessness, alienation and pain. Change what can be changed and cope positively and peacefully with that which cannot be altered. It takes a special discipline. Among its roles it’s associated with folks in foxholes.

Exiting Sunnyside at a time of Covid-19’s closing in on the deaths of 100,000 souls cries out for a special application. One yet to be revealed. Will Lowrence understands the challenge, but he has no articulated plans beyond sleeping in and indulging his habit of awakening in the middle of the right to write.

Spending time with his children on the West Coast is restricted because they have all contracted the coronavirus, which he and his wife Becca have successfully avoided during lockdown at Sunnyside.

There is no denying the threat. Will is a long-time follower of bluegrass or country music, although growing up his mother regarded it as of vulgar taste, His favorite musician was John Prine, described as the troubadour of dirty windows and broken hearts who sang of the place on the Green River where Paradise lay (...before Mr. Peabody’s train carried it away). In Will’s mind, My People. Earlier this year, coronavirus carried Mr. Prine away.

Is there time for a further God’s mission,? Will’s rhetoric in behalf of the dispossessed does not lack fire; it resounds for all to see with hints from the sea of Galilee.

Please send comments on this profile to the author; he would appreciate your feedback.

Jim Hanscom Harrisonburg, VA 5/2020