On Sundays, Mr. Tully not only welcomed congregants in the narthex before services, he also went out on the front steps, a visible presence in the neighborhood. Passers-by were invited in. One summer Friday he set up a table on the sidewalk with an umbrella, two chairs and free lemonade: the advice he dispensed included weather predictions, directions and his opinion on whether demons were alive in this world. (He opined that they probably were, and he summarized the whole unorthodox experiment in, what else, a sermon titled “Confessions of a Street Preacher.”)Bill's strong pastoral skills are sometimes eclipsed by his other achievements--his sermons, which are intellectually meaty, but which are highly accessible, his humor, his passionate belief in "radical welcome" which as fellow parishioner Lucy Martin Gianino is quoted as saying, led to some controversy, but put St. Barts at the forefront of “being a major welcomer of the gay and lesbian community,” are the subjects one hears about the most often, usually noting, as indeed Lucy does, that Bill "was able to lead people down that path and have us all feel good about worshiping and serving the church together." And of course the unending debate over Bill's vision of replacing our superannuated pews with cathedral chairs, which has finally come to pass (and increased the sound quality within the Church, much to everyone's pleased surprise).
In 1995, in the same community house that under the skyscraper plan would have been razed, he established a restaurant with an outdoor cafe in good weather. It is thriving. On the flip side of entrepreneurialism, the church’s soup kitchen serves 70,000 meals a year to the needy, and its food pantry provides the makings for 70,000 more. The 10-bed women’s shelter is a rare haven in an otherwise corporate neighborhood, as are the public gardens. If homeless people want to rest inside the splendor of St. Bart’s sanctuary during the day, they are left in peace.
But to me, Bill is the man who could turn from a coffee hour pleasantry into an earnest recommendation of an obscure book that touched his heart, whether the book was ancient or modern without missing a beat, who saw joyful children running down the aisle in the middle of a service as a gift, not an intrusion on a liturgical ideal, and has an amazing gift for making infants relax at the baptismal font. He has educated me, made me think, been an inspiration and a guide to me, and I am grateful for his role in my life.
And, I must admit, the chairs are extremely comfortable.
(Photo/audio credit: Tim Martin)