A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday.
[Isaiah 58:9b-10]

William Horne

The outpouring of praise for the life of William Horne overflowed on Sunday throughout social media. The Vice-President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America died unexpectedly on Saturday, and as news of his death spread, so did the tributes.

My wife and I had just come out of church and as I sat in the car scrolling through e-mails and text messages, the words from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton bolted across my screen with all the blunt force of a cannon blast:

“With much sadness and shock I share with you the news of the sudden passing of Bill Horne, my friend and Vice President of the ELCA.”

To say I was stunned is an understatement.

Bill Horne was elected ELCA Vice President in 2016 at the Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, my first as bishop.

I can’t begin to describe what a proud moment that was for me to have a person of color at the highest level of lay leadership in this predominantly white church body. To know that for the next six years this man would be the chief legislative voice of our denomination had me beaming ecstatically.

William Horne and me at ELCA Churchwide Assembly
New Orleans, LA, August, 2016

I sought him out to congratulate him and had my wife take a photo of us for posterity. I gazed at that photo throughout the day on Sunday and reflected on our several interactions over my time in office.

Bill Horne was a leader in every sense of the word. Those who knew him as the City Manager of Clearwater, Florida – a post he held for nearly two decades – attested to his integrity in all the comments published yesterday.

(See Tampa Bay Times article:)
Bill Horne, Clearwater city manager for 20 years, dies at 72, three weeks before retirement (tampabay.com)

Those who served with him on the ELCA Church Council likewise cannot say enough good things about his leadership.

It calls to mind a quote from the late Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus of Notre Dame University:

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

There was no mistaking the sound of Bill Horne’s trumpet. He listened. He valued others’ opinions. He had a self-control about him that could calm even the most unsettling challenger.

For me, it was simply a joy to be in his presence.

The scripture reference at the top of this tribute is taken from his report to the Conference of Bishops in the Fall of 2019. It seemed so appropriate for that particular gathering as we were struggling through several controversial issues at the time that did cause some to point fingers and speak of evil.

I had hoped he would be our ELCA Representative at my final synod assembly in 2020. However, the rescheduling of the assembly from June to September due to COVID-19 derailed those plans. The people of Northeastern Ohio did not get a chance to witness an extraordinary servant of God.

I often wonder why some people are taken away from us at inopportune times. It is hard to make sense of it all. Bill was just weeks away from retiring. He was looking forward to spending more time serving the Church. Yet God, in God’s wisdom, has chosen to reserve for him “the crown of righteousness,” to borrow a phrase from the apostle Paul. [2 Timothy 4:8]

Bill Horne was absolutely certain of God’s love for him and lived in confidence of the promise of the resurrection to life eternal. That is why, even though we grieve his untimely departure from us in this life, we too can rejoice in the knowledge that we will see him again in the next.

Rest eternal grant him, O Lord,
And let light perpetual shine upon him.

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