by SC Reporter Teresa Vazquez
photo by SC Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
From a young age Reverend William” Bill” Van Oss knew he wanted to live a life of service. As a kid he served as an acolyte in his church and now he serves as St. Michael and All Angels’ rector.
Van Oss was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin where he grew up in the Roman Catholic church. Along with his parents he was very involved in his parish, and even attended Catholic school. Soaking in his surroundings, Van Oss soon realized he wanted to become a priest.
He enjoyed the scripture readings, being part of the service and wanted to serve people the way priests did—offering the services of the church, counseling, preaching, etc.
Once he found his vocation, he began his time in the seminary and in 1991 became an ordained Roman Catholic priest for the Diocese of Green Bay. He served in the diocese until he met Sue, the woman he fell in love with and that would soon become his wife.
Aware that he could not be a priest and be with Sue he resigned from the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Sue also resigned from her job as youth and family minister in the parish. They then married and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota where they began to build their life.
As they built their life together, Sue and Van Oss knew they wanted to continue serving in the church. They began their research and Van Oss found that he could serve as an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church where the pair was welcomed with open arms.
“They were just so warm and welcoming and accepting of us, it really made the transition very, very, very smooth for us,” Van Oss said. “We really saw God’s hand at work in that, in those people that welcomed us with open arms.”
In 2000, Van Oss started the process of being received as an Episcopal priest. He then started serving in the Episcopal Church in Northfield, Minnesota. Eventually, he made his way to St. Paul’s in Duluth where he stayed for 14 years.
After 14 years, Van Oss said he began to feel restless which led him to find an opening at St. Michael’s. The Church’s profile caught his eye prompting him to submit an application. Once submitted the almost yearlong selection process began.
Along with 50 other applicants, Van Oss’s went through an extensive review conducted by a 12-person committee —aligning themselves with the 12 disciples—chosen by St. Michael’s vestry.
Chuck Sterrett, who was on the committee, shared the numerous steps Van Oss had to pass before he was chosen. From 50 initial applicants the committee dwindled the pool down to five to six potential choices.
They then went through rounds of zoom interviews and the top three were invited to give a sermon to the committee at the Island. Recorded sermons/ Bible studies were also examined, a new perspective made possible by the digital world.
The committee then turned in a 100-page document reviewing the standing candidates and made their suggestion to the vestry who ultimately chose Van Oss.
Sterrett said they were looking for someone who could give a good sermon, was personable, and that related well to the members. Van Oss was all of those things, shared Sterrett, he is like “your favorite uncle.” But what stood out the most to him was the way he spoke.
“So many people they talk with their hands and they point at you, or they raise their fingers to say, you know, victory or numbers,” Sterrett said. “If you watch Bill preach. He keeps his hands like he’s holding you. He’s not physically holding you, but he speaks to you like he’s holding you in his sermon.”
As rector, Van Oss plans on keeping the church going through the pandemic and opening up as the situation improves. He is currently working on turning the church’s parking lot into an area for outdoor worships.
He does many things as rector and his days are often busy, but Van Oss said that he doesn’t have to do it all himself. He has people like Sue who volunteers at the church and helps with recording the services.
“I feel like I’m the conductor of the orchestra, and everybody is out there, and they have their gifts and talents they’re playing their instruments,” Van Oss said. “I’m the one kind of bringing them all together and making that beautiful music.”