From his earliest years Bill Flanders knew that church was a place where he could talk to God. In time, church became the place where Bill would hear God talk to him.
Raised in St. Cecilia Parish in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Bill began, even as a child, to incorporate daily morning Mass into his life. It became a quiet routine that he maintained as he took on a career and a family of his own. “To know that your first hour is with the Lord is just a great way to live,” he explained.
As part of that quiet routine, Bill prayed persistently to hear the voice of God. “I was talking to God but was I not listening?” he wondered. “What was missing?” Eventually Bill’s prayer was answered. He was attending Holy Rosary Church in Delran, N.J. The church had just introduced Perpetual Adoration and Bill volunteered to watch over the Blessed Sacrament on Sunday mornings before Mass. “One hour, one day, when I was alone, I heard the Lord talk to me,” he said, “and I have heard Him ever since. I know when the Lord is talking within me. I feel it. When the Lord wants me to do something, I do it.”
A full-time member of St. Damien Parish for the past six years, Bill lends his assistance wherever it is needed. He is a Eucharistic minister, a sacristan, a lector and an altar server. Of these various roles, he said, “All of them are joys. They allow me to participate more fully in Mass.” He has gotten to know the parish priests and “that is why I think so highly of them.” Going where he is needed to open a church or read Scripture or administer communion, Bill feels equally at home among the worshippers at Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Augustine, and St. Frances Cabrini Churches. “I am embedded,” he smiled. In fact, Bill recommends that all parish members contribute to the process of merger by attending services at all the churches.
Bill’s most recent role is on the Parish Council, whose function he said is to “be the eyes and ears” of the parish. Council members work to bring parishioners into the many lay ministries of St. Damien. According to Bill, last year’s diocese-wide Joy of the Gospel Convocation was highly effective. It stimulated new lay-driven initiatives in St. Damien Parish and has helped parishioners better realize that they have a responsibility to be involved.
Born in 1948, Bill is grateful that as a teenager he attended Cardinal Dougherty High School, which, at the time, was the largest Catholic High School in the world. After attending Temple University for two years, he joined the Air Force, but only after promising his father that he would finish college. After his father died suddenly when Bill was 20 years old, Bill kept his pledge, attending night school for nine years while working and raising a family. Bill had a forty-five year career in information technology, most of it at Cigna. At the age of 50, he returned to school to earn a master’s degree and became an adjunct professor at LaSalle College and Holy Family University. These days he works one day a week in the computer room of the Ocean City Public Library, where he takes pleasure in answering questions and helping people learn how to send a fax or print a document.
Bill is a devout Catholic yet is deeply ecumenical in outlook and proud of his interfaith family. Sue, his wife of 51 years, is a Baptist. The couple has three children and seven grandchildren ranging in age from 20 to 18 months. Their daughters-in-law are Jewish and their son-in-law is non-denominational. “We celebrate the Jewish holidays,” Bill explained, and on Christmas Eve the whole family goes to St. Isaac Jogues Church in Marlton, where one of his sons now lives. “We take up a whole row,” Bill said. What does everyone in this interfaith family have in common? “We believe in God,” he said. “That’s what being a Catholic means to me. You believe in God.”