COLUMBIA — The Rev. Bill Haney sat at the rear of the church and smiled widely. He watched as speaker Stephanie *Dorman fumbled with the microphone during his farewell celebration Sunday afternoon. "Now you know what I have to go through," Haney joked.
The Rev. Bill Haney has retired after 21 years as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia.
Haney has had a wide array of experiences, a background befitting a church that has members from diverse denominations, including Jewish and Buddhist.
Haney grew up in Los Angeles as the son of two ballroom dancers. Every Christmas they would give him the latest vinyl record by Benny Goodman. Haney said his parents had a fantasy that he would become a famous bandleader. Haney also struggled to fulfill the dream of most young boys.
“I was always the last boy chosen for the baseball team,” Haney said, “I had very poor hand-eye coordination.”
Haney’s first true passion was architecture, which he studied at the University of Oklahoma. His idol, world renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was also a member of the Unitarian Church. Before joining the Unitarian Church, Haney worked as an architect. He often borrowed from Lloyd's style of blending nature into architecture.
While Haney enjoyed designing buildings, his true joy came from the personal interactions, he said. After the demise of his second marriage, Haney realized architecture was not entirely fulfilling. Haney joined a seminary in Berkeley, Calif., where he met his current wife, Loretta Willems.
The couple moved to Columbia in 1989 as Haney began his pastoral work.
MU senior Kenny Wiley joined the church two years ago and immediately “fell in love with the parish,” he said. Wiley said he respects Haney for his work regarding "political justice." Haney has performed multiple same-sex marriages at the church, even though it's not recognized under Missouri law.
“Sexual orientation has nothing to do with the rights people have,” Haney said.
Haney also worked to bring young adults into his church. He said it's important that when young people, such as college students, are seeking their identity, they have an environment to explore, free from guilt or pressure about joining a different religion.
Dorman said Haney inspired her to go into the ministry. She said Haney, who allows church members to give guest sermons, was a great listener and source of joy for the church community.
"His eyes twinkle when he smiles," Dorman said. "He will be missed."
Haney plans to serve at a Unitarian Church near Tucson, Ariz., for two years, then move near his son in Oklahoma City.
The Rev. Dr. Suzanne Spencer, currently serving in Danbury, Conn., will be the interim minister.