The Transylvania Times -

By Norah Davis
For the Transylvania Times 

St. Philip's Episcopal Welcomes New Pastor – Brevard NC


Rev. H. William "Bill" Walker

On May 16, St. Philip's Episcopal Church welcomed a new pastor, Rev. H. William "Bill" Walker, who will serve for the next 18 to 24 months while the church conducts a search for a permanent replacement for the previous pastor.

Walker is new to the ministry as of five years ago, when he was ordained as an Episcopal priest at the age of 64 after a lifetime as a real estate attorney in Miami, Fla.

While a partner at White & Case law firm, his clients included major corporations such as the Walt Disney Company.

Likable and unpretentious, Walker also seems to have boundless energy. He has served a number of organizations in leadership roles, such as chairing the board of directors of United Way of Florida and chairing the board of the Easter Seal Society of Miami-Dade County.

After accepting the position at St. Philip's, he wrote to the congregation: "Serendipitously, Brevard is in our favorite part of the world." He and his wife, Laura, spent summers in Cashiers and Highlands for many years, ever since their three children were toddlers. They own a home in Highlands.

"While we have never tired of the cool weather, beautiful scenery and great golf courses, our most cherished quality of the Western North Carolina mountains is the people," he wrote. "I have regularly described your little corner of creation as the closest place I know to Heaven."

Walker earned his undergraduate degree at Washington & Lee Univer-sity in 1968 and then graduated summa cum laude and first in his class from the university's law school.

"I flunked out of my freshman year at Washington and Lee - too much freedom," he said with his characteristic self-deprecating humor, "but Laura slapped me into shape before putting me through law school." They had married right out of college after meeting on a blind date.

Like her husband, Laura has had a distinguished career. She graduated from Sweet Briar College and later took a master's degree in educational leadership.

Laura and Rev. Walker were among six families who founded the Trinity Episcopal School, a secondary school where she served as head and their three children attended. Trinity started with 19 children and now has 800 students. In addition to Trinity, she served as head of St. Thomas Episcopal Parish School, an elementary day school that now has a long waiting list. A common occurrence is parents registering their newborns on the way home from the hospital.

While Laura was adding to her impressive resume, Walker was earning a divinity degree in 2009 from the nondenominational Florida Center for Theological Studies by taking classes at night and on weekends, while continuing his law practice. (We did mention "boundless energy.")

Once he was ordained, he served as the associate pastor at St. Thomas Episcopal Parish for five years. The church has about 1,000 members in its congregation.

He initially resisted his call to the ministry, and later the call resisted him, in a sense.

The first call came when a first-ever woman clergy at his church told him, "There's something going on inside you, and you're pretending that it's not going on."

Then the second call came when the bishop of southeastern Florida was giving an address and said, "The church needs to find new ways to identify and call and train clergy."

Walker recalls, "It was like one of those Hollywood moments when everyone else in the room disappeared except for him and me."

From then on, Walker and the bishop collaborated to turn the call into reality. Walker wanted to continue practicing law while he attended the nondenominational seminary. But when he graduated, the committee that approves ordination for Episcopal priests didn't think he was serious-despite the nights and weekends.

The committee still wanted Walker to attend an Episcopal seminary. Walker resisted. The committee fought back. Finally, the bishop was able to negotiate a compromise. Walker would spend one year doing what amounted to field work at a little Nigerian-Jamaican church in southwestern Miami.

"The church was 90 percent African-American and Caribbean-American," Wa-lker recalled.

Members of Episcopal churches always greet each other sometime during the service, a practice known as "the Peace," which usually takes about two or three minutes, even when the congregation has hundreds of members. At the small Nigerian-Jamaican church with a congregation of about 120, the Peace lasted 20 minutes.

"Nobody would stop until they'd greeted absolutely everybody else," Walker said. He loved it and still goes back whenever he can.

After that, the Episcopal committee approved his ordination.

Interestingly, when Walker was a youngster, his father who was also a lawyer, said to Walker's cousin, "Bill will go into the priesthood someday."

Walker only found out about that remark after his ordination.

The St. Philip's governing board apparently perceived the same qualities that Walker's father had seen.

Michael Wainwright, one of the church's lay leaders, said, "We intend to continue or even expand our efforts to reach out to the community. And Bill certainly embodies that goal like a new pair of shoes. It takes time to break them in, but what comes will be a new look."

But not too new, according to Walker. Because he's still getting accustomed to the ministry, he has formed a "what-do-I-do-next" committee of clergy friends as informal advisors.

And they told him that his job is to not change anything, rather just to hold things together as they are, unless a serious issue comes up. In that case, he's to take the hit so that when his replacement comes in, it will be like a sandbox perfectly raked and ready for the newcomer to make his or her mark.

"My job is to keep St. Philip's together as a functioning, loving church," said Walker. "Every clergy person I've spoken to has said that my job is just to love them."

For Rev. Bill, that seems to come naturally. He and Laura are clearly "people people."


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