LIMA—God didn’t cause the disease that is chipping away at the Rev. Bill Croy’s life, but he is comforting him through the difficult journey.
This was Croy’s philosophy about faith and life before and remains following his 2010 diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. It is one that has crept into many a sermon through the years and one that might appear as the former pastor returns to preach at Trinity United Methodist Church Sunday.
“This is what I got. It is the luck of the draw. Rotten luck and I don’t like it, but I don’t see God as the fault. God is the comforter, the one who is walking with me,” Croy said from his home in Columbus earlier this week.
“I think God is just as mad as I am about my having it and having to deal with it, and therefore I can walk though life living it to the best of my ability.”
Croy, 63, and his wife, Dorothy, will return to Trinity Sunday, World Communion Day. He will preach at both the 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services, but it won’t be easy.
Spending much of his time in a wheelchair, Croy can only take a few steps at a time and needs to hold onto something. The disease has affected his diaphragm, making breathing and speaking for any length of time an exhausting chore for the man who loves to talk. Still, thinking of his 17 years at the church, it is the fitting place for what he admits could very well be his last sermon.
“No question, Lima has a special place in our hearts. We absolutely love and enjoyed Lima. We just think it is a wonderful community,” he said. “Those folks have continued to care for us and stay in touch over the years. We just felt like this is what we would like to do one more time.”
ALS, often called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is an incurable, progressive disease that affects nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord and causes muscle tissues to weaken to the point of paralysis. People generally live two to five years after diagnosis.
The first symptoms came in 2009 during a mission trip to South Dakota. Croy attributed the exhaustion to aging, but it continued to worsen to the point where he had to sit throughout worship service at Maple Grove United Methodist Church in Clintonville. He would stand to preach.
“I could push it out and make it work, but I still didn’t know what was wrong with me,” he said.
The diagnosis came in August, 2010. Soon after, he retired.
“Bill has faced it with a huge amount of integrity and realism and deep faith,” said longtime friend the Rev. David Harris, who followed Croy at Trinity and remains today.
COMMUNITY AND MINISTRY
Croy’s connection to the region is long. He grew up in Ottawa, where his mother, Mary, still lives. He graduated in 1971 from Ohio Northern University, where he lettered three years in football and four in track. The school inducted him into its Athletic Hall of Fame. Croy, who met Dorothy at ONU, served on the school’s board of trustees for 18 years. He stepped down after being diagnosed, but remains a life member.
While a senior in college, Croy served as youth minister at Grace United Methodist Church. Grace merged with Trinity in 2008. He returned to Lima to serve as Trinity’s minister of education in 1978 and remained until 1985. During this time, he started the Center for Creative Child Care, a day care and preschool program still operating today. He also brought athletics to youth programming and started a community track team, Northern Ohio Wings.
In a rare move by the Methodist conference, Croy was reappointed in 1993 to Trinity as senior pastor, a post he held until going to Maple Grove in 2002.
“It was just a wonderful feeling to have such good friends come back,” said friend and Trinity member Pam Lauless. “He and his wife are very good at maintaining the ties and supporting people all through their entire lives.”
Both from his actions and messages from the pulpit, Croy brought the concept of servant leadership to Trinity.
“The work we have been doing in recent years of being an externally-focused congregation is really building on what Bill started here at Trinity,” said Harris, who calls Croy his “big brother” in ministry. “Bill really helped Trinity begin to look outside of itself to the community as a servant to the community. Without his hard work, we would not be where we are today.”
Croy involved himself in the community, active in things such as the Lima Noon Optimist Club and YMCA and becoming the first Downtown Lima board president.
Sunday’s service is expected to be well attended. Croy will likely preach for about 10 minutes from his chair, planning to stick mostly to the planned scripture, Mark 10: 13-16, in which Jesus receives the children.
“It is certainly broader than just children,” Croy said. “It is the importance of us understanding that it is about being an open community of faith. We accept and we love everyone. And I probably will say more than some people want me to say, but that is too bad.”
Croy laughs and says he’s been blessed to have served churches that have let him “get away” with and even supported him saying things everyone may not agree with. He hopes people leave Sunday feeling the importance of community and supporting and encouraging each other.
Preaching has become more emotional for Croy since his diagnosis and he expects Sunday to be no different. Yet to physically get through, he’ll try to control those emotions.
“I think it will be very emotional and people will be very inspired,” Harris said. “People have a lot of pride in Bill and what he meant to this community and church, and what he has meant in his other ministries and the integrity he brings to everything, including his disease.”
NOT DONE YET
Today, Croy and supporters dubbing themselves “Bill’s Backers” raise money and awareness for the ALS Association. There have been fundraising walks in Columbus, a golf outing today in Ottawa. For information on today’s golf outing, which includes other activities, go to www.golfdigestplanner.com/21688-PutnamCountyALSBenefit/.
In July, Croy threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Cincinnati Reds game recognizing ALS Awareness Day. He continues to amaze friends and family.
“Even though this dreaded disease has come upon him, he has managed to continue to teach us all how to live life,” Lauless said. “He and his wife continue to go everywhere and do everything they possibly can. He is still teaching us.”
Croy never saw himself as a fundraiser and it still seems a little strange to be doing it, but it is something he can still do. And doing nothing isn’t an option.
“To sit around and do nothing, waiting to die, does not seem to me to be the way to go,” he said. “I recognize there are things I cannot do any longer, and I try to do other things. I plan on living as long as I am alive. When I can’t, then I will die.”
While accepting his fate, Croy says he isn’t in any hurry and will enjoy the time he has left.
“I enjoy life and I enjoy this world,” he said. “And if heaven is better than this, that will be great, but I am already living with God and Jesus.”
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