Celebration of Life

There are some friendships that stand the test of time. The kind that pick up right where they left off and never get stale. I believe it is when the spirit of God in you recognizes the spirit of God in them. You are made from the same material, and you belong to each other. Connected by heart. Yesterday at the Celebration of Life Service for Bill Bullard I reconnected with those kinds of friends. It was a sweet time of fellowship. I think he would be overjoyed by the fact, that after the service, we all ended up a Mo’s Pizza in the end. Just hanging out, like we used to. Having fun in his honor.

I spoke at the service and I am posting my talk here for those who couldn’t make it…

Back before everyone knew whether they were an extravert or an introvert, we all knew Bill Bullard was an extravert. We may not have known the term, but we knew he was an outgoing and overtly expressive person. The definition of an extravert. His seemingly endless energy came from his love for people. All people. Young and young at heart.

As teenagers in the youth group, we knew that being with us made him come alive. We brought him joy…and that makes all the difference when building safe trusting relationships. We didn’t need fancy seminary degrees to know he loved us. He demonstrated our worth, through his actions. He cared about us deeply, and he couldn’t have hidden that fact if he had wanted to. He assigned us high value which made us feel seen and known. He made sure we had a place to belong.

Our deepest human need is to belong. To feel love. To be cared for. God designed us that way. The Bull sewed those seeds, watered them, and let them grow. He didn’t force feed those seeds of belonging, but allowed us the grace and space to discover what God had put inside of us. His energy was infectious. He was a mentor and a father figure to many, especially those in our group without dads. He happily stood-in to demonstrate fatherly love. God the Father gifted him in this area and Bill made it his mission…to make sure all of us knew what it meant to be loved unconditionally. It certainly did not erase the insecurities of the teen years, but it did give a more solid foundation on which to stand. It built up what we needed to survive in life. I cannot overstate the importance of what Bill did in our lives, or how that affects us even now.

And how did he accomplish such an enormous feat? Not kumbaya moments, though we certainly had plenty of those. The atmosphere of openness he created helped us to connect with God, personally. But no, those moments were the overflow. First, he put us on a bus. An experiment of sorts. What could go wrong, with 75 teenagers in a confined space fueled by sugary drinks and snacks, trapped together for long periods of time. All of us. All the school rivalries. All the personality types. Together. It worked. On that bus…labels disappeared. The jocks and the nerds sat together. Geeks and brains and freaks…all the usual high school cliques…evaporated. That bus, which he worked so hard to get, was the sanctuary of the youth ministry. The place we felt was our own. The place we spent hours and hours riding to all the fun places he took us. It was genius.

 I certainly cannot ignore all the activities on this occasion. It would be a travesty to leave out the Bull’s trademark ministry style. FUN. Above all else, he believed that fun and God belonged together. With the help of some friends, I tried to compile a list of all the places he took us on that bus:

  • Mo’s, Mellow Mushroom, Athens…all the pizza places…within a 10-mile radius.
  • The Varsity. Sometimes, if I go there to take an out-of-towner for the experience, I can still imagine us all in one of those rooms, with our Varsity hats on. BTW, the food was better back then than it is now.
  • The YMCA, where some kids actually exercised, played ball, swam, and ran, exercise or not, all of us hung out together. And after said exercise? Krystal, of course, for bags and bags of those little square burgers.
  • The Wallace house, for swimming.
  • The Schaffer house at the gorge, for hiking and sliding rock.
  • Our house in the mountains, for horseback riding and jeep rides.
  • Putt-Putt, the fancy one off Shallowford with the new-fangled video arcade.
  • Goofy golf, the one with the T-rex holding the caveman by his hair.  
  • Lock outs- Going from one place to another all night. Skating, bowling, putt-putt, then, breakfast.
  • Annual Christmas Caroling, where Bill spread Christmas cheer, by singing loud for all to hear.
  • Six Flags in the hot sticky summers.
  • Stone Mountain to the water park, and later the laser show.
  • Road trips to In the Oaks, those trips alone, would take hours to share. I think it was the birth place of the original escape rooms. Foxes and hounds, and once, a snowball fight of epic proportions.
  • Camp Waco, affectionately called Wacko, filled with bugs, fishing, and shaving cream battles.
  • Periwinkle by the Sea in Panama City Beach, where the dream team of Bull and Mr. V were brave enough to take a bus full of teenagers every year, for sunburn and water balloon fights…and some singing.
  • Youth choir tours where people “up north” asked us to talk, so they could hear our accents. And the nice New Yorkers pulled up beside us and handed a purse through the bus window.

Most every road trip we took, included Bull as a driver. He was the pastor of the bus. It was his domain. And ours.

You might ask, can any kind of real ministry happen on a bus? Indeed, it can. Community was fostered there. We became a family on that bus. We learned to love and care for one another, and to care for others who were different than us. Those we knew in our own schools. Those we met along the way of life. Even now, many of us reach out to those in our own circles of influence, because we remember the feeling of belonging. Those seeds Bull planted took root and grew in us, even if we didn’t ever realize it…until now. Until we reflect on the passion of Bill Bullard.

What more can you ask? What better vision for life than to impart belonging everywhere you go? I can’t think of a better assignment for Bull than that. And he did it so very well. He will be missed to be sure, but we all carry him with us in the seeds he planted and our love for each other, even now. We have been shaped by this man and for that I will be forever grateful. God knew just what we needed when he created Bill Bullard.

And he knew what Bill needed, too. Eugenia and Becky were gracious enough to share him with us for many, many years. There was great sacrifice involved to allow him to be with us, all, the, time. But, I also believe, all Bull’s energy required he have a place to rest. A home to go to where there were not teenagers everywhere. Thank you both for being his home, so we could be his ministry.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Well Done. Especially the eating and drinking part.

The Bull personified this verse and I do believe he did it well. Today heaven is having a party, and Bill Bullard probably planned it!

6 thoughts on “Celebration of Life

  1. Thank you, again, Michelle. for one of your finest pieces about one of the finest ministers of our time, Bill Bullard. “The Bull” created happy, uplifting memories and teaching moments to cherish forever, and opportunities to share everyone’s life struggles and growth – a wholesome family with unconditional love and a place for each to “belong.” My role as occasional camp nurse was a treat for me and it was a relief that the most needed from me was a good supply of band-aides! Our children have thanked us countless times for having taken them to church. Bev is surely at that party! Let’s keep loving fun, loving beauty, loving each other, loving God.

  2. T saw the Service on Facebook after I got in from work. You can have community also through the Word of God, as The Lord Jesus Christ Has Helped me to do being a part of the Church I currently belong to, Clairmont Baptist Church.

  3. Michelle, you have captured the essence of God in Bill that he shared with EVERYONE! His ripples will continue through all that have known him! We were all so blessed to have touch our lives!

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