Earlier this week, Tim Challies linked to this article. In the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, each year the synod reads aloud obituaries of pastors who died in the past year. It is a way of honouring God’s faithfulness to them and an encouragement to ministers who are still serving. This is one of them.
Born to Scottish immigrants, William Campbell grew up in a loving, Presbyterian Church of Canada home in Ontario. While employed by a large newspaper, he married Maureen Dawson in the summer of 1956. During routine travel for work, he saw an entire family known for their immorality suddenly converted; the strength of their witness of Jesus’s love and forgiveness showed a vitality that Bill had never seen in his home church. God used the witness of this family to show Bill the reality of his own sin, need of a Saviour, and God’s provision of atonement in Christ. As he read his Bible, he moved away from Pentecostal theology to an historic, Presbyterian position–one he always held with conviction and humility, as God had used poorly taught, fervent believers to bring him to faith. Already a father, an increasing burden to preach the Word led Bill to leave his position with the newspaper and enter his studies for the ministry at Knox College, Toronto.
After his ordination in 1965, Bill served several Presbyterian Church of Canada congregations in Ontario and New Brunswick. During 1977–1978, he served as Evangelist at Large for a large Christian aid organization, returning to the pastorate to peach the Word. Never bound by custom or convenience, Bill was eager to adopt children, and in the 1970’s, the Lord gave him and Maureen three through adoption in addition to their three biological children. This decision would at one point cost them a call to a church that frowned on interracial adoptions. In 1986, a debilitating, stress-induced heart attack forced an early retirement from full-time ministry.
After a lengthy recovery, Bill volunteered locally for Overseas Missionary Fellowship and was able to do much pulpit supply—something he continued for decades across eastern Canada, preaching weekly for a small church in New Brunswick. This preaching was an essential part of the establishment of Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) congregations in New Brunswick and Ontario; a work in which Bill became heavily involved. He eventually transferred his credentials to the ARP and baptized, married, ordained, counseled, and hosted many ARP members. Informally mentoring younger pastors formed a substantial part of Bill’s contribution. He spent much time listening, asking questions, encouraging, and giving away books to students and pastors to the end of his life. Perhaps the ministers who benefited most from his wisdom were his sons-in-law.
In 2000, Maureen died of cancer, cared for in her Ontario home by Bill and their daughters. Afterwards, Bill travelled less, limiting his preaching ministry to ARP and a few Dutch Reformed congregations in Ontario, and Free Church of Scotland congregations on Prince Edward Island, where he often spent summers with his daughter’s family.
After a stroke in early 2012, Bill moved in with his other daughter, where he was cared for by the family until his death. In those last years, unable to preach and only traveling for grandchildren’s weddings, Bill spent his time in the Word and prayer. It was not unusual for him to spend an entire morning reading his Bible, later going to commentaries and the original languages to better grasp meaning. Bill spent the rest of his time in prayer, day and night. To have Bill pray for you was to be held up before the Throne of Grace for hours at a time. Perhaps these were his most fruitful years: uninterrupted by work or domestic cares to meditate deeply on inspired Scripture, and to intercede for Christians and congregations whom he loved because Jesus did.
Bill leaves behind a loving sister, six children, fifteen grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren, spread across Canada and the United States. Many congregations also grieve his loss. For Bill, death has made faith sight–something he longed for with increasing fervency as he grew older and more holy. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” – Revelation 14:13.