AN UNCONVENTIONAL PREACHER
Bill Yates came to preach at the Athens church of Christ just as I was going away to Lipscomb as a sophomore. He and Jean had met at Lipscomb and Bill preached several years at the West Nashville church of Christ after graduation. They came to Athens with their two young daughters, Lynn and Mickey, and moved into the “parsonage,” which was formerly our home. Harriett had built a smaller house down the hill, near the one Glenn, Katie and Emily lived in behind the old log house.
Emily and Lynn soon became good friends and visited back and forth up and down the hill. Whenever I was home for visits, Bill was always eager to hear the latest news from Lipscomb. He was very personable and enjoyed going downtown to the local restaurants for morning coffee and a cigarette with local businessmen. He took on a part time job at Miller’s Department Store on the square and became a familiar presence in the community. Soon he was a leader in the local Lions Club. During my summer break, Emily, Lynn and I provided the musical entertainment for a meeting!
Most of the church members enjoyed having a minister who was outgoing and well-liked in the community. It had not been the norm previously.
In late August after my graduation from Lipscomb, Glenn suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while working at the funeral home in Chattanooga. He had emergency brain surgery at Erlanger Hospital but died on the morning of September 1. Bill had come down to be with us, while Emily (who had just turned 8) was playing with her Cate cousins and Lynn in Athens. I went to the hospital to sign papers and then to tell Katie and Mother that Glenn had died. Bill offered to drive with me to pick Emily up and give her this heartbreaking news, before taking her home to be with her mother and grandmother. As we drove in the driveway and saw the girls playing happily, he broke down and said, “I can’t do it.” So Emily got into the car—and we sat there as I tried to explain to her that the father she loved so much had died despite all our hopes and prayers. In a flash, her childhood ended. Bill conducted the funeral service a few days later.
When Tom and I were planning to get married, Bill didn’t offer any specific advice or counsel. He and Jean had experienced considerable tension in their own marriage and he probably didn’t think he had much to offer. We asked him to officiate at the ceremony (which we had at Keith Memorial Methodist Church) and I requested he include this passage from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet: “…let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of love; Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls…”
Bill and Jean later moved to Kingston and one summer invited Tom and me to visit them and the girls for a weekend on the lake. There was boating and fishing, then fried catfish, hush puppies and slaw. Bill remained unconventional—a preacher who knew he was a broken and flawed person and also needed grace.