The Rev. Bill Haney retires from Columbia's Unitarian Universalist Church after 21 years

Sunday, May 30, 2010 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 1:00 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The Rev. Bill Haney of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbia is show with a puppet fashioned in his likeness. The puppet, made by church member Nancy Spaeder, was featured in a skit during Haney's farewell ceremony on Sunday. Haney has been the pastor of the congregation for 21 years.

*CORRECTION: This article has been modified to reflect the correct spelling of the following names: Nancy Spaeder, Larry Dorman. and Stephanie Dorman.

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.

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Daniel Jordan May 31, 2010 | 5:04 p.m.

Revs. Haney and Willems are treasures of goodness and reason. They help us to embrace life without reservation, to seek truth without fear, and to approach God without superstition. May rich blessings follow them wherever they go.

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