Father Bill celebrates 35 years of priesthood

By Roger Moroney

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Father Bill Chapman at one of the recent Anzac Day services he has been involved with through his many years of service to the church, and community. Photo / Warren Buckland
Father Bill Chapman at one of the recent Anzac Day services he has been involved with through his many years of service to the church, and community. Photo / Warren Buckland

He is the Reverend Bill Chapman, and he is also a community priest and he is a minister of the church.

But he's perfectly content with the simple title of "Father Bill".

And this Sunday Father Bill, who lives near Puketapu, will be acknowledged for 35 years' service, as a community priest to churches across the Diocese of Waiapu, including 14 years in the Puketapu and Districts Parish and 32 years' chaplaincy to military veterans associations.

Among the latter, the Ex-Royal Navalmen's Association, which is fitting because Father Bill was a navy man himself, and is first to admit he led a pretty hard life in the service between 1961 and 1970.

So much so that at a recent navy reunion he attended an old shipmate approached.

"He looked at me and said 'wow ... you're still alive'."

It was while in the navy he said he effectively got the calling.

The way he put it was "it wasn't so much I was looking for God - God was looking for me".

And he found him through one of Father Bill's musical idols, a chap by the name of Cliff Richard.

In typical straight-down-the-line Father Bill fashion (he's well known and regarded for his humour and no-nonsense approach to things) he said it was while in a toilet at a dockyard in England, reading a newspaper.

There was a story about Cliff Richard declaring he had become a Christian.

"It p***ed me off at the time because he was my idol - why would a guy so rich become so stupidly religious?"

But Father Bill started thinking about it more and more and he spoke to people about it. Got their opinions, looked into what they were saying and what they believed and he realised he had a decision to make.

Which he did, and chose the ordination into the non-stipendiary ministry because it meant he would not be paid - so he could work within the community as well as the community of faith.

He became the Diocese of Waiapu's first community priest when he was formally licensed for that role by Bishop Murray Mills.

Being a "community" priest, that title, appealed to Father Bill because that was how he saw himself, and still does.

"Back then in 1966 if someone told me I'd have done this I'd have said no, never."

But his growing devotion to the community, through his equal devotion to the church, steered him.

His early years were centred around Tamatea and in 1973 was appointed to a committee to set up a cooperating parish for the Tamatea Community Church, of Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian.

He organised and operated the first youth club in Tamatea called The Tamatea Teen Scene.

Father Bill went on to spend 13 years in the ministry at St Augustine's and his association with the services began during the 1980s.

He has been Mission to Seamen chaplain, Napier RSA chaplain, Ex-Royal Navalmen's Association chaplain and has also devoted time, and his services, to the King's Empire Veterans, the Merchant Navy Association and City of Napier Army Cadets, as well as being strongly committed to assisting and working with Vietnam veterans.

A lot of Anzac Days - a lot of services across the board and all managed around what he called "getting the maximum out of the minimum" as he eventually worked his time as a fulltime minister while on a benefit.

In 2001 he left his long-time Napier home and he and wife Mavis shifted down to Crownthorpe where he carried out a monthly service at the historic St George's Chapel.

They upped sticks again about two years ago and moved to a property off Puketitiri Rd, where his son Shane had shifted to earlier - so they are neighbours.

He has retained his role as community priest for Puketapu and Districts Parish.

"Still work to be done," he said.

Father Bill's devotion to the church and the communities he has worked within throughout the Bay will be acknowledged as part of the Remembrance Sunday service at St George's Chapel.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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