My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
Rev. William W. Heath (1933-2021)
My father recently passed away in his sleep. He was a retired Baptist minister (although he was writing a sermon the week he died - that is what "retirement" means for pastors). I was asked to provide a few words for his funeral, and what follows is part of my eulogy.
"I have a book coming out this fall, and it was dedicated to him. I was looking forward to surprising him with the dedication – but obviously that was not to be. Here is what it says in the acknowledgments: 'Finally, this book is dedicated to my father, the one who not only sparked my interest in politics, but also raised me to serve God, love life, live well, and think hard.' When I wrote that a year ago I had no idea I would be writing the outline of my eulogy.
Dad’s love for God was obvious – and it was rooted in a genuine life-transforming conversion as a teenager. Jesus had changed his life, and he sought to live out his faith to the best of his abilities. I am especially proud that he maintained a life of faith even after a number of hammer blows of loss and grief. That is a testimony that I hope to live up to.
Dad loved life. You could not keep him from wanting to go on one more trip, one more adventure, one more walk…his desire to travel and see new things was insatiable and infectious. My own desire to keep exploring and seeing new things can be directly traced to the Sunday afternoon hikes, family vacations (some would say marathons), and beachcombing on the shores of Nova Scotia that he loved so much.
Dad lived well. He was not perfect (the coffee spills as he poured back and forth was always something to behold – and when I was younger found a little embarrassing), but he sought to be a godly man in the midst of the travails and temptations of modern life. I am proud that he did not conform to the easy way – but sought the narrow road. One marked by commitment to help others at any time and in any place. And one marked by seeking to live a life of fidelity to the gospel – even if that meant being ostracized.
Dad thought hard. No one reads the great German theologian Karl Barth for pleasure reading – but my dad did. And, unlike many people who read Barth, he understood him! My dad was a man of books, and I know few professors who read as widely as my father. When we were kids rarely would we go anywhere without him lugging a book or two with him. And he could be lost in a book surrounded by twenty-five people talking all around him, with his ruler and pen making those trademark perfect underlined notes. However, his desire to study was infectious. What I learned from him was that there was so much to be discovered about the world, and about God. But what is so special was that he did not take on airs and talk down to people. He would engage everyone where they were at – in a kind, passionate, humble, yet inquisitive manner.
In conclusion, my dad is now gone to meet Jesus, and perhaps get some answers to questions he formulated while reading the works of so many theological giants (or, I suppose, he could ask some of those giants themselves). Yet at the same time he is not gone, for I see his influence in my life, my children, his family, and his friends who continue to serve God, love life, live well, and think hard."
10/16/2021 08:50:04 pm
Very nice tribute!
10/17/2021 03:58:32 am
This is a lovely tribute to your dear dad whose death must feel like a profound loss in many ways. Thank God we do not grieve without hope. Your words remind me of my dad who is a few years younger than your dad, but who also reads Barth and finds his writings “devotional”. He too underlines with a ruler. Grace and peace to you as you mourn and celebrate your father who now stands with the great cloud of witnesses.
1/10/2022 04:36:04 pm
Did "Billy" ever live in Toronto,when his was young? With a sister Rita?
1/10/2022 05:57:14 pm
Yes, they were siblings. It sounds like you knew them (many people who called dad "Billy" knew him when he was younger).
Judy (nee peake)
9/20/2022 03:24:08 pm
Billy was my lovely introduction to little boys. I lived with my grandparents on McPherson Ave., Toronto. Billy was always protective and seem so wise. I felt he was older than he was. I recall his father telling me he was quite small when he was born. His father indicated that he could hold him in his palm. I think I recalled his mother saying not THAT small. However, he WAS underweight when born. I can well imagine though, that he held his weight, so to speak, in adulthood, as he was such a nice person. I do not think his sister much cared for me, but I did meet her once, in later years when I was back in Toronto.
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