A pillar of the Parliament of the World’s Religions left us—physically—on Tuesday, January 23.
But in a deeper sense, there’s no way that Bill Lesher could ever leave us.
The Rev. Dr. William E. Lesher was there at the centennial celebration in Chicago in 1993, the beginning of the modern Parliament. He was there in Cape Town, South Africa as an Ambassador in 1999. He was there as the Chair of the Board of Trustees when the Parliament convened in Barcelona, Spain in 2004 and in Melbourne, Australia in 2009. He was there in Salt Lake City as a Chair-Emeritus and invaluable encourager in 2015.
I met with him numerous times during the planning process for the 2018 Parliament in Toronto, and he was still “all in” with his ideas, recommendations, and counsel.
Since 1993, Bill has covered the globe, always advocating and engendering support for the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
He became my friend and colleague long before I was associated with the Parliament—when we were both presidents of U.S. seminaries. Back then, he was the visionary leader of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, bringing to seminary education a deep commitment not only to theology’s engagement with science and ministry’s engagement with justice, but also to the seminary’s holistic engagement with other religious traditions.
Yes, “engagement” was what Bill was about: bringing ideas, causes, and people together for the greater good of all.
He had a way of living deeply in his own Lutheran tradition and living broadly with all the religions of the world.
Martin Luther famously said “Every [person] must do two things alone; he must do his believing and his dying alone.” Bill was indebted to Luther on many fronts, but not on that matter of believing and dying alone. His life was devoted to believing with others.
And when it came to his long process of dying, he did that with others as well. Friends and colleagues were with him every day: engaged in conversation, in deep reflection, in creative exploration. In his final days, those friends were with him around the clock. And when he breathed his last, he was still engaged.
Bill left the Parliament so many legacies. He taught us so many lessons. And the thing that comes to mind when I think of him and the thing that, above all others, will remain absolutely vital in the years to come, is this: his shining witness to the power of being engaged in this world, together. - Larry