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Bill Craig, part of a fifth-generation family at Siloam Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, is remembered for a life well lived

Craig, who traveled in many circles during his 76 years on Earth, is celebrated during a three-hour service

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Bill Craig poses with his wife, Rhonda Joy McLean. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — William Alan Craig, better known as Bill, a Presbyterian ruling elder of varied interests and copious abilities, was remembered Saturday by friends and family members at Siloam Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York. Watch Craig’s celebration of life, which opened with a Connecting Links ceremony, by going here. The service begins at the 30-minute mark.

After Siloam’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Eric A. Thomas, welcomed people to a service that would last three hours, Siloam’s clerk of session, Deborah Cook, read letters from people celebrating Craig’s work over 76 years of a life lived well. One was from U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Warnock addressed his letter to Rhonda Joy McLean, Craig’s widow:

“May you find comfort in knowing that God consoles all who mourn,” Warnock said. “You weep. We love you, sit and weep with you. Yet we do not weep like those who have no hope. Our hope is in God and in the power of a resurrection faith.

“We praise God for your husband and for the legacy of love, family and faith he leaves behind. May the one who promised to send the Holy Spirit saying ‘I will not leave you comfortless’ comfort you in the wake of his triumphant launch into eternity. Until that great consummation of all things, may your life continue to pay tribute to his legacy, bearing witness even now to the scripture’s bold declarations: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Keep the faith and keep looking up. Every blessing.”

“He has a warm and open energy,” Merle Lockwood said of Craig, who took her to the beach for the first time when she was about 7 years old. “You felt protected and safe and free to express yourself … I’ve never known anyone who could string words together like he could … He encouraged my passion for wellness coaching, which is what I plan to do in my retired life.”

Amorie Stephens read Craig’s obituary, which identified him as a pharmacist, nutritionist, professor, naturopath, poet, playwright, painter, sculptor, woodcrafter, flautist, jazz-lover, motorcycle enthusiast, world traveler, chef and community organizer. Craig died July 21 at home in Brooklyn.

Nearly 30 years ago, Craig launched Siloam’s Men in the Kitchen program. Men in the Kitchen, also known as Men Cook, saw boys and men ages 8-90 prepare a wide range of cultural dishes and present them to a panel of judges before sharing them with the congregation and with special guests. The dishes were scored on taste and nutritional value, with the top three chefs awarded prizes. One of Craig’s last official acts was to confirm that the latest Men in the Kitchen event will occur on what would have been his 77th birthday on Oct. 14.

According to the obituary, Craig taught himself to play the flute and pursued his interests in the arts and wood-crafting. During the civil rights movement, he and his friends founded an experimental school for young people. He wrote plays and poetry, self-publishing books of poetry, essays and his plays. He and others at Siloam Presbyterian Church were heavily involved in the Dr. Edith Rock Writing Workshop for Elders.

“It warms my heart for you to be here with us. I’m Rhonda Joy,” McLean told those gathered. “I’m Bill’s third and final wife,” McLean said, prompting laughter among those gathered for the celebration of life.

“We were an interesting couple,” said McLean, a writer, attorney and leadership consultant. “One of the last things I did for my wonderful and irascible husband was to pay a speeding ticket for the motorcycle that we told him not to drive. I’m just saying.”

McLean capsulized their relationship in three words: “live,” “laugh” and “love.”

“Bill worked hard but in a wonderfully joyous way,” said McLean, adding she was 47 when she met Craig and 64 when they married. “I’m a poster child for ‘It’s never too late. Don’t worry about it.’”

“We love laughter,” McLean said of their approach together. “We are serious and committed to making this city and the world a better place, but why can’t you have fun while you’re doing that?”

Hug your loved ones while you can, McLean suggested, adding, “So live, so laugh, so love.”

Craig’s son Asa expressed gratitude for “the ways you are helping us honor his memory.”

He outlined an alliterative list of “Billyisms,” including custom, curiosity, clan/community and commitment.

“I am of a family whose connection to Siloam can be traced back to 1863,” or nearly five generations, Bill Craig wrote. Bill’s great-grandfather was Siloam’s clerk of session, and his great-uncle was a ruling elder.

“As a septuagenarian now, there is a profound peace to know and feel that I am at home in Siloam, as were my ancestors before,” Bill Craig wrote. “In this day and age, that is needed almost as much as it was in the days of slavery. I do whatever I can to support its continued existence.”

“My father lived his life with an innate sense of curiosity, which was annoying at times,” especially as family members work to sort through his files, Asa said. “For my dad, every day was an opportunity to learn and explore. To him, when a person ceased learning, they ceased living.”

“If there’s one ‘Billyism’ we should adopt, it’s to remain committed to what matters to you and those around you, despite how painful and tiresome and expensive that may be,” Asa said.

Thomas invited those present to “think of the funniest thing Bill ever did.”

The Rev. Dr. Eric Thomas

“I too would go outside the church and see that motorcycle and say, ‘What in the entire world are you doing on that motorcycle?’” Thomas said. “We know Bill as a man of faith and a faithful husband, father and friend. We can’t even say all the things he was. We know Bill is well-loved and he will be deeply missed, and we know Bill can finally find rest in the peace of Christ.”

Craig used to ask some of the same questions the disciple Thomas asks Jesus in the Lord’s farewell discourse as recorded in John’s gospel, according to Thomas.

“Bill would ask the same question: ‘Excuse me, Jesus? How do we know where you’re going?’” Thomas said. “How can we know the way? Bill knew the way.” He “used all his passions, wisdom and curiosity to live his life in the light of Christ.”

“I can imagine Bill will have a lot of questions for Jesus, bless his heart,” Thomas said. “But scripture tells us God is God enough for all our questions, all of our doubt, all of our fear.”

“This celebration of life is an invitation to all of us, just as the peace of the resurrected Christ is an invitation to all of us,” Thomas said. “It’s part of the divine peace Bill is currently resting in. May comfort and thanksgiving be ours for a life well lived. And may we hear what Bill has already heard: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant … Enter into the joy of the Lord.’”

Craig is survived by McLean and by Asa Craig. He was pre-deceased by his daughter, Kelli, who died earlier this year.

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