BILL Gillard’s ministry was shaped by the life, the energy and vision of John Wesley. Bill was born into a staunch Methodist family in Maffra. His father was a tailor by occupation; his mother, Emily, came from Tasmania. Bill caught rheumatic fever when he was seven and nearly died; throughout his life he recognised God’s hand in his survival.
Bill began work as an apprentice fitter and turner with the Nestlé Milk Factory. Then, when he was 19, in 1951, the Rev John Blakemore came to Maffra as their new Methodist minister. John was a remarkable man with a passion for the legacy of John Wesley which was contagious.
Bill was captured by a vision of ministry in the Wesleyan mould; he responded to Wesley’s comment about his heart being strangely warmed by the love of God. But at age 20, tragedy came in the death of his mother, Emily.
In 1953, a year later, Bill entered Otira College, and the following year served as Home Missionary in South Melbourne. Accepted as a candidate for ministry, he trained, 1955 to 1957, at Wesley Theological College in Adelaide. In 1955, when Bill was 23, his father died, yet three years later he commenced an assignment with the World Council of Churches which took him to Fiji, Northern India and, eventually, to Austria where he had responsibilities for caring for teenage refugees from Hungary who had escaped after the Hungarian revolution of 1958.
In 1959 Bill was appointed, briefly, as minister to Morwell, but a sudden vacancy at Robinvale resulted in Bill being sent there with his motor bike. There he stayed until early 1962. He was ordained at Wesley Lonsdale Street on 19 October 1961.
In April 1962 Bill was inducted as minister in the Orbost/Cann River Circuit. Amongst the staff at Orbost High School was one June Bell – June and Bill were married on 27 December 1962. Their daughter Penny was born while Bill and June were in Orbost but their stay there was cut short when, in 1966, Bill was sent again to Fiji to be Superintendent of Wesley Mission at Suva. While there, their daughter, Talei, was born. Bill’s creative and reforming mission skills were becoming recognised and it was not surprising that, in 1971, he was appointed to the Collingwood-East Melbourne-Richmond Mission where he served until 1982. Then, in 1983, Bill took on seven years as presbytery minister to the former Yarra Valley Presbytery.
Bill returned to parish ministry spending three years at Warrenwood and four at Heidelberg West after which he retired. He became a valued volunteer with the Uniting Church Archives, and president of the Uniting Church Historical Society. In recent years his work with young asylum seekers from Muslim countries who wished to become Christians and to be baptised, most dearly energised and excited him.
Health issues emerged both for himself and for June and the last couple of years before his death were stressful. He was concerned that his own health problems were making it difficult for him to help June.
Bill died in February 2014. The service of thanksgiving for his life was held at Wesley Church Lonsdale Street on 5 March. The service was conducted by the Rev Alistair Macrae.
This tribute is based on the Rev Dr Warren Bartlett’s eulogy at the service.