Elder William A. Loveless passed away September 16, 2014. His death stirred frost-bitten Idahoan memories of the time I first knew him in 1953. Bill had just graduated from the Adventist Theological Seminary and was starting his internship as a minister in my father’s district. Bill was a risk. He'd spent his first two years in college at La Sierra but was asked not to return because of his interest in playing jazz on the saxophone. So Elder C. Lester Bond, president of the North Pacific Union Conference, had taken a chance in sponsoring Bill. Not prone to theological speculations or surplus gossip Elder C. Lester Bond was a pious, no-nonsense preacher, after the austere style of Messages to Young People. Bond was a prolific writer hoping to change Adventist youths who held their religious views apart from secular life. He found comfort in leading young people and devoting much of his interest to the JMV society. From the outset, Elder Bill Loveless was, how shall we say, “slightly” different in makeup and treated conformity to the ministry with suspicion. From time-to-time he would twist the tail of the comet in a tug of war against the mundane and examine a certain class of truths that cannot become true till our faith had made them so.
My father Tom Willey, was one of the more experienced ministers in the conference having served in departmental work in Montana, Idaho and Oklahoma. Dad supposed that Bill Loveless was assigned to him to learn the ropes because during the 40s he and Elder Bond worked together in Missionary Volunteer programs and in summer junior camps. Both were Master Comrades. (During the cold war with Russia these categories were changed to Guide and Master Guide, perhaps for obvious reasons) My father passed away in 1990, Elder Bond in 1971.
Unless we gather up these early recollections we will miss the practical matters largely concealed by the thrashing sweep of death in the progress of time. From these earliest years in the Pacific Northwest we can discern the ministerial pattern that would eventually come to characterize the preacher man Bill Loveless became.
Freshly-minted youthful ministers Bill Loveless and Sunny Liu, the singing evangelist, were assigned to the Moscow Idaho district to conduct roving evangelistic meetings throughout the district. They often preached two sermons on the Sabbath in the small wooden churches in the district. Then they held evangelistic meetings during the week. Remember this was the 50s. The evangelistic messages were 1mostly the overworked “end of the world” narratives and warnings about the judgment and the second coming. The Moscow district included Farmington, Washington, Deary, Troy, Potlatch and Viola Idaho. Today, these towns have faded away with the shifting population migrating to larger commercial areas of the country.
I encountered Bill and Sunny Liu when I came home on “leave” from Upper Columbia Academy (UCA) at Spangle Washington. My father frequently typed letters to me, passing on the family news. I later bound these letters in three volumes. UCA was about twenty miles south of Spokane Washington and sixty miles north of Moscow. Saturday night conversations at home were lively when the three preachers got together. Bill had launched a call-in radio program in Moscow on family issues. The Moscow church members were upset with his forthright and open answers to certain questions on marriage and sex. Frank Robinson, the man who talked to God, founded his radio programs while living in Moscow. On Sabbaths I went with the two young evangelist or my father and listened to them preach. Bill Loveless began to break the speaking traditions around Adventist Sabbath services and Sunny Liu presented special music that seemed necessary for eternity and nothing else had a chance of being put in its place.
On one of these visits to home I went with my father and Bill to give a Bible study to a woman living in the woods near Viola. Her husband told my dad that if he caught him on the property he would shoot him with his deer rifle. The deer rifle was in the back of his pickup. Throughout the Bible study, I sat at the front door slightly ajar, watching down the driveway with a feeling of urgency if anyone drove up the road. The threat didn’t bother my dad or Bill. As I recall the week before Bill had preached on guardian angels and his own sermon shielded him from the fear of being shot. They both showed no weakness of nerve and continued to give studies to the wife.
Life was full of surprises with Bill around. For instance, my father told me about Sunny Liu singing in the café downtown in Troy. Truckers, farmers and loggers and general run of people gathered there for coffee and meals. The three preachers were in Troy preparing for the Sunday evening meeting. After eating their sandwiches, Bill stood up and announced with ebullience that there was a renowned singer with them who had a singing voice that could tame wild horses. Would they like to hear him sing? Without waiting for unanimity Bill called to Sunny Liu to stand up and prepare to sing. But Bill was not about to give Sunny Liu’s voice away for free. To the surprise of the café owner Bill proposed a piece of lemon pie to the three preachers in exchange to hear his friend from Hawaii sing. Liu appeared inescapably reluctant, or so he feigned, but he took his position at the counter and sang—The Holy City without holding back. Afterwards everyone was invited to hear more at the tent meeting in the center of town.
Bill never knocked at the door when he and his wife Edna Maye came over to the house to visit. He just barged in calling out “where’s the Bishop?’ Eventually, he dropped Bishop and simply called dad the “Bish?” These were happy days. My father remembered later that his days with the Loveless’ as some of the happiest of his life. Also, my folks found any stretch of conversation with Edna Maye, Bill’s wife, pleasant and spontaneous. Marilynn, their first child was born in Moscow. Bill nurtured a carefree spirit, born with genes that enhanced his ability to remember people’s name and establish common friendship. Upon entering a room Bill became the center of attention, he liked variety and drew people into him with genuine affection.
When I came home Bill wanted to know about my grades, participation in pray bands, where I worked, who were my friends, were they a positive or negative influence on me and what kind of mischief I had achieved. He left me with the impression that I should create some great fire that was burning under the edges of the world. We shared our common academy experiences. He thought the faculty was too trigger happy to kick students out of school over irrelevant matters. Not that he brooded about it, but Elder Loveless was also a preacher’s son and he said he used to feel that he could never measure up to his father’s calm soul. I found it easy to talk frankly to Elder Bill. “Stop frowning” he said in a low voice, “I know it is not a simple life to be a teenager. And you don’t help things any by pretending. I know what it means to have poor grades and be in trouble with institutional laws,” and he went on, “some boys stroll through life neatly made, but that was not the case with me.” Afterwards he broke away with encouragements of one form or another. Like a good fortune teller, indulging in a light irony he left the details of my maturing to grow on their own.
Upon learning of the yearly visit by Elder Bond to the Moscow church my dad offered Bill the opportunity to introduce the president and “make a hit with the boss.” “Don’t do anything out of the ordinary,” dad said. When the time came Bill welcomed the church members and introduced the conference president as Bishop Bond. Not many people took notice in the reveries but Bishop Bond was obviously offended. Standing behind the pulpit Elder Bond slowly turned and looked at Elder Loveless sitting behind him and announced he was not a “Bishop” and did not appreciate being called one. The category had a Catholic ring as a heavy thing for an Adventist. He was Elder Bond. This caused ripples to run through the crowd. Completing his sermon Elder Bond sat down and Elder Loveless got to his feet and remarked the pleasure of hearing Bishop Bond’s sermon while the president stood looking down at Bill with his grizzling gaze. Later I heard my father tell Elder Loveless that was not exactly what he had in
mind when he suggested that Bill introduce the president. Elder Bond wasn’t there to have his fortune read or participate in a debate over whether clergyman were Elders or a Bishops.
After a few years in Moscow my mother began to receive rosy and shining love notes from a woman in the Troy church who imagined she was attracted to Bill. It was said of the woman that she had an unstable mind. This was no frivolous matter to Elder Bond and he decided to move both Sunny Liu and Bill. For a short time Bill and Edna Maye conducted evangelistic meetings in Washtucna, a small community south and west of Moscow. My father was quite disappointed to see Bill and Sunny Liu push on. After Washtucna in the summer of 1955 Bill Loveless and Edna Maye were appointed to the Spokane Central church.
Three years in the Moscow district was the proving ground for Bill and Sunny Liu. They preached under considerable pressure to both believers and infidels alike. Bill established radio ministry in Moscow. The move to Spokane Central open other opportunities which eventually launched his public image we know today. He was soon on his way to the headquarters church in Sligo.
Bill was distressed at the state of affairs with the young people and the long held legacy of little change. To illustrate his views of what should be done, a group of Adventist high school students organized a softball team from Spokane Central. The games were played on Monday and Wednesday evenings. But the church would not allow the students to play in the city league on Wednesday because of mid-week of prayer. Bill went to bat for the students and obtained a compromised. The young people were not coming to pray meeting anyway and many no longer attended church. So Bill proposed that he hold a special pray meeting on the field on Wednesday evenings and then play ball. The church board approved this compromise and Bill joined the team to play in the right field.
Bill would go on to devote considerable energies in the ministry to the youth of the church. He forged opportunities in student missionary programs. He became known by his preaching of good tidings. He was unpredictable in certain way and was different than the rest. He introduced listeners to complex impressions and new ideas. All of this was compounded out of learning the ropes in the backwaters of western Idaho and eastern Washington. There he learned to pass a strong practical light on the pathway of his listeners believing that individuals were born believing in the same way that a tree bears apples.