Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 31, 2010
Bell thought he could outwait God
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Weeks went by. Then months. And Bill Bell felt a ripple of relief as he thought to himself, "Maybe I can outwait him. Maybe he'll just go call somebody else."
But God's patience is divine and Bell and two other men will answer their Father's call to become deacons May 29.
It's been a bit of a trek for Bell. It all began when he and his wife Wendy returned from leading a youth group to World Youth Day in Rome in 2000. Bell "knew I was being called. And I knew the word diaconate."
Trouble was he didn't know what a deacon was - just that God wanted him to be one.
A successful health care professional with degrees and decades of experience, Bell shares his emotions surrounding his journey to the diaconate with disarming frankness.
"I would like to tell you I was an Isaiah, as in Isaiah - 'I am here Lord' (Isaiah 6.8). That's not who I was. I was a Moses. 'Who am I that you would ask me?'"
Doubts shadowed Bell. "I am not worthy. No one would listen to me. But God said, 'I will go with you.' And I prayed. And I discerned."
Finally he called the then archdiocese vocations director Father Stephen Hero, telling him, "I don't know what this is about but I know I am being called to the diaconate. And I don't know what it is."
Archbishop Thomas Collins was in the process of planning the diaconate program and Bell sent his resume and answered several of Hero's questions - and waited.
Bell is accustomed to stepping up to the plate when he hears the call of the Father. Born into a farming family - grain, cattle, turkeys, chickens, pigs, vegetables on land near Chamberlain, Sask. - Bell lost Clarke, his father, when he was 13 months old.
"I remember lots of times sitting on my Mom's bed looking up at a picture of my father and talking to him." Emotion fills his face as Bell shares, "I was really talking to God but I didn't realize I was talking to God. It is who God is to me - my Daddy."
Studies were pored over in a one-room schoolhouse till Grade 6.
First job when he graduated from a Moose Jaw high school was as a nursing orderly. He climbed from psych nurse, finally to a master's in health care administration.
Work settings varied from long-term health care facilities, to health units, to jail, to administration. He is presently the administrator of Foyer Lacombe, a continuing care facility for Oblate brothers, priests and other religious people.
REGINA SKI HILL
Along the way he met Wendy on a ski hill in Regina, "fell madly in love" and created a family - Becky (articling in family law), Jeremy (completing his master's in counselling) and Nathan (teaching in the Edmonton Catholic Schools).
Raised in the United Church, Bell had drifted away from sitting in a pew and marvelled at Wendy's Catholic faith. "She had incredible love of the Church and I wanted to renew that faith in myself."
So he enrolled in the local parish's RCIA program.
"Before our first child was born I didn't want a divided family in faith."
The couple - members of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Fort Saskatchewan - gives with both hands to Church and community - Scout and Girl Guide leaders, WYD tour organizers and leaders, marriage prep, pastoral councils and more.
Bell's career climb derailed his journey to the diaconate in the second year. He got "a high-powered job in addictions" and, with the blessing of the diaconate program, took a leave.
Two years later, God gave a nudge and Bell realized, " I really need to get on with this."
He flourished in the group of three candidates and grew to trust and care for his fellow spiritual travellers.
THE CALL OF THE TOWEL
Then came the second diaconate weekend. Bell prefaces the story about the weekend by saying that when he worked in the jail, "I was fairly young. It was not all that positive an experience. Jails can be, at times, explosive and violent."
So he really did not want to do it again.
A couple came from Ontario to lead the weekend retreat and the prayer session began. A number of towels were placed on the table.
"And we knew that the towels had ministries written on them, but you could not see them. And there was a washbasin.
"When you felt God asking you to go forward, you went up, washed your hands, you took the next towel, dried your hands and opened it up to see what ministry you got."
Bell remembered praying, "Please God, not prisons. Please don't send me back to the jail."
When he felt the Father's urging, Bell went forward, washed his hands, dried them and opened the towel.
"But I was obedient. And I did it."
Helping the prison chaplain gradually went from putting out chairs to leading the Liturgy of the Word on weekends.
HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK
"You know it is absolutely amazing to watch the Holy Spirit do his work if you just get out of his way," enthuses Bell. "You watch young men and women come in and they are carrying some burdens on their shoulders. Some don't want to be there - they're there because it is just an opportunity to get off the cellblock. They tolerate it.
"It's amazing as you read the Liturgy of the Word, as they read the Scripture and as you reflect on the readings of the Scripture, watch the tears come. You see people come in with a burden and they go out after setting the burden down. The Spirit has done it."
Some ask the deacon to pray with them. Others pour out their hearts during the intercessory prayer.
"By working the jail system before, I know the chances they are taking," says Bell. "They are going to be very vulnerable when they return to the cell block. But the Holy Spirit is pounding in their heart."
Relaxed and grinning broadly, Bell says, "To me the diaconate is about the opportunity to serve God's people. And I will do it - based on what he asks me to do."
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