Tuesday of Holy Week clergy gather in the Cathedral to renew our ordination vows. Every year I have spent time with my friend the Reverend William Krieger. He and I met in December, 2008, and became instant friends. We started our respective positions on the same day – he at St. Paul’s, Yuma, and I at Grace, San Marcos. Bill and I went to the same seminary, and, although he was three years ahead of me, we had the same professors and very much the same experience. Both of our congregations were working through splits caused by anger surrounding the ordination of the Bishop of New Hampshire. We had plenty of things in common. But there was more to our relationship than things in common. He and I became clergy brothers – I could call him anytime about anything (which I did) and he’d listen and, likewise, he could (and did) call me anytime about anything. We took each other’s confessions of sorrow and joy.
Bill wasn’t at the renewal of vows on Tuesday. That was no surprise because he retired from his position in Yuma to spend time with his family. Since he is nineteen years my senior, it was time for him to retire. But, it was with shock that I heard the announcement from our Bishop that Bill died on Saturday in his sleep. He had a battle with cancer, one which I believe he won, although his body didn’t survive.
When I think of a priest, I think of Bill. He had the kindest and most compassionate demeanor. Under his pleasant, warm and inviting exterior, was a huge oak tree of faith. He is the one you’d want at your bedside at a time of crisis. He could cry with you and remain strong in his faith – a faith that was contagious.
I have his Facebook page up right now. I should close the browser window, but I can’t. Somehow I think that as long as keep his page up, he’s still alive. I’m not ready to give my friend up to God. I want him still here with me. But the reality is, he’s already there; regardless of my own feelings. I don’t know how many Bills I get in my life, and especially in my ministerial vocation, but I am betting the number will be very small. The comments on his page are inspiring. Professors, clergy, friends and family are posting tear-jerking messages about what an impact Bill made on their lives. There are messages in English, Spanish, and one post in Latin. My favorite messages are those that say that although they were not members of the churches he served, he had a huge impact on their lives. And one I entirely agree with says, “One of the best men I’ve ever known. It’s not fair, and it’s not right, but it is.”
As we remember Jesus’ resurrection appearances to his disciples, we are reminded that Jesus defeated death. With that in mind, I believe that Bill defeated cancer. Bill’s body is dead, but his spirit is still very much alive. For sure the disciples missed the pre-crucifixion Jesus, but despite their grief, they celebrated his resurrection. And with that thought, I will now close Bill’s Facebook page, but remember he is still in my heart. And here is my final post to him: I love you, my brother, and am looking forward to celebrating with you at the feast prepared for all peoples.