William J. Abraham
December 19, 1948
October 7, 2021
Yesterday, I started a ministry update to let you know what we are doing here at Servants’ Feast. Before I had written a full paragraph, I got the call that William J. (Billy) Abraham, the Board Chair of Servants’ Feast, had died. So it is that today, rather than a report about ministry, I find myself struggling to write something worthy of the man who meant so much to so many and who was such a trustworthy, unshakable, and rich presence in my life.
For over a year while in seminary, I served as his assistant, even sharing his office initially before being assigned my own. There is no question that the Lord led me to Billy because I needed the intellectual depths of understanding to return to Christ. I needed Christianity to have more substance than what I had garnered from my church education as I grew up. As it turns out, there is far more to Christian faith and life than any of us ever deserved, and I am indebted to Billy for teaching me that.
On the final day of my employment, as I headed out into the wide world of pastoral ministry, he walked me to the car, helping to carry the miscellaneous stuff one accumulates in an office. I was afraid and knew I was ill-equipped to enter ministry. Being in seminary and continuing my studies were all that I wanted, preferably somewhere near this spiritual father who brought me back to Jesus Christ after my years “in a foreign land.” As we approached my old car, he turned to me and said, “Do not say good-bye, and do not start crying. This is not the end. I will always be here, and we will remain friends in the years to come.”
He was right. Through good and bad, in moments of joy and in times of sorrow, celebratory in victories and stalwart in defeat, our friendship never wavered. He was my greatest fan and believed the very best of me, yet he also was my most direct and fearless critic, knowing my favored sins and spoiled weaknesses. He held many “roles” in my life, the most significant of which was that of spiritual father, but he was indeed my trusted friend, sometimes a bit of an older brother with whom I was always at home and with whom I occasionally argued quite vocally, as only siblings can. He pushed me, prodded me, cheered me on, and never gave an inch when I was wrong. He let me whine when I was hurt, but he refused to let me whine for long. “That’s enough, Moreau,” he would say to me. “Time to get over it and get back to work now.” He only called me by my last name when he wanted to close a discussion.
Born in Northern Ireland, the fourth of six boys, Billy grew up on a small family farm following his father’s death and came to be one the most recognizable and influential voices in Methodism around the world. Billy held a D Phil in analytical philosophy and epistemology from Oxford University. He had an ongoing ministry teaching clergy and establishing churches in Romania, but he also had been involved in ministries from Australia to Nepal to Singapore, and most recently, to Costa Rica. The author of more volumes than I can name off the top of my head, Billy’s interests ranged from John Wesley to terrorism to Divine agency to the heritage of Christian tradition, always from within a Wesleyan perspective.
Of all the things for which I admired and loved Billy, without question, it was his devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that I respected above all else. Billy had a great mind, but others have great minds, as well. What made Billy unique was the faith that illumined his mind, that turned knowledge into wisdom and brilliance into humility. In a world of relativism, Billy never doubted the truth of Jesus Christ. His commitment to the saving truth of Jesus Christ was unrelenting and indefatigable.
When I first arrived at seminary and wasn’t entirely sure what I believed, I heard other students mock him and his evangelical beliefs. But what I know now that I didn’t know then is that Billy was not the first evangelical to be mocked for his confidence in Christ’s salvation, nor will he be the last. Undeterred by those who believe that Christ crucified is foolishness to the smart or a stumbling block to the religious, Billy’s confidence in the loving goodness and sovereignty of our merciful God will not be disappointed. I can almost hear him saying, “Wow…” as he looks around our Father’s Kingdom – more than we can imagine, all that he now sees.
Most importantly, he now sees Jesus. Billy is, as the apostle John wrote, “like Him, for Billy sees Him as He is…” When I think of Billy and his uncompromising commitment to knowledge, especially divinely revealed knowledge, as in Scripture and church tradition, I think he is at last satisfied, because Billy “now knows fully, as he has always been fully known.”
As many can attest, Billy was not finished with his work. There was more that he wanted to do. Even as he retired, he began anew, teaching others and opening their minds to Christ, as well. But I also do not doubt that Billy is content with what he has done, trusting that our Lord is now guarding all that was entrusted to Billy.
The loss of Billy will leave a gaping hole in my life, but it is not commensurate with the pain of his wife and his adult children. They, whom he loved above all others, need our thoughts, our prayers, and our support. Billy is rejoicing – reunited with his oldest son, Timothy – in the presence of the Lamb of God, singing “Holy, holy, holy, worthy is the Lamb Who was slain…” All the rest of us, his family most of all, are left in grief and sorrow, but let us not grieve as a people with no hope. As Peter wrote, “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
As Billy said once before, “Do not say good-bye, and do not start crying. This is not the end.” I’m crying. I can’t help myself because I know I have lost so much in losing Billy. I also know there are many others who feel the same way. However, I do know that Billy’s advice would be, “fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith… there is laid up for you a crown of righteousness…”
What is next for Servants’ Feast? We will continue to serve Jesus Christ. Servants’ Feast has always been about Jesus, the true Servant Who laid down His life that we could feast at His heavenly banquet through His Body and Blood, not about Billy. As Christ told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you…” I believe that. I am heartbroken to lose my mentor and friend, but I am certain Christ’s grace is sufficient for me. He has never failed me yet, and for as much as I truly loved Billy Abraham, my salvation comes from God. Billy would agree with me wholeheartedly.
So, the Board will meet, and we will decide what steps to take and so forth. But of one thing you can be sure, we will continue to strive to bring you the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the life of the One who saved Billy from death and is saving each of us from the same every day.
To my brother in Christ… Until we meet again, Billy, until we meet again…
In Christ -
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau