by Bil Aulenbach

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Meet Bil


Note: The underlining in my bio is for folks who want to know just the highlights and would rather not have to wade through all the details.

My life story started on St. Simon and St. Jude Day (October 28) in Bloomfield Hills (big bucks), Michigan, at the end of the Great Depression in 1932.

When I was four, my Dad was called to be the rector of a rundown parish in a rundown section of Philadelphia (no big bucks). Being the son of a prominent clergyman can be a good life! I lived in Philly until the fall of 1950. But what I really loved were the summers by the beach in Stone Harbor, New Jersey.

When I was in the sixth grade, my parents decided I needed better educational opportunities, so they sent me to the Episcopal Academy, a private boys school in the suburbs. I was a lousy student who didn’t like school. The only subject I excelled in was Saturday detention. I had an A+ in that class.

But I loved my life around the church. For punishment, my parents wouldn’t let me go to Sunday night services. That borders on weird!

I did graduate, barely, from EA in 1950.

A big change came over my life when I went to college. I was no longer:

  • William Hamilton Aulenbach, Jr.,
  • living on West Tulpehocken Street,
  • in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I was now:

  • Butch
  • at Kenyon College
  • in Gambier, Ohio

At first, I thought one went to college to learn to party, but with the Korean War warming up, I had to switch gears and get down to the serious business of growing up. I did, and Kenyon turned out to be a great experience in every area of my life—except my faith journey. That took a big hit.

After graduation, I went into the Marine Corps’ officer candidate program. But as soon as the North Koreans learned that “Butch” had joined the Marines, they demanded a cease fire and got it. (History might not write it exactly that way.) It was a great three years in the Corps as I was stationed in Hawai’i and traveled all over the Pacific, on the Corps’ dime. I even made captain.

But then I thought it might be more fun loving people than killing them. So I went to seminary in Berkeley in the late ’50s. That was another interesting experience; especially when a fire engine on the way to a fire broadsided my friend Brad and me on our motorcycles. Brad was killed immediately. I think about him often.

Upon graduation from seminary, I returned to Hawai’i as an Episcopal priest. There I met Annie (an hour after she arrived from Santa Barbara) and we were married nine months later. What a find!

Then, in 1962, the French government offered me a full scholarship to work on my doctorate at the University of Strasbourg. Annie and I went. Another fantastic experience!

In 1964, we returned to Hawai’i and I became the rector of a parish on Maui. Two of our three children were born there, and the middle one was a rubella baby. That was a game changer, a very interesting one.

It meant resigning as rector and returning to the parish where Annie and I met when I was the youth minister. The youth program had gone from 350 teens to just under 40 kids. But it was exciting as we were able to build it to over 2,500 youths with a large array of programs. It was all going like gangbusters until the rector decided to fire me for being against the war in Vietnam. I’m still working on that one!

But the bishop hired me two hours later, and for the next six years I did fantastic ministries all over the Hawai’ian Islands and in the Marshall Islands. Life was exciting!

But the school situation for our deaf and legally blind daughter was not good, so we left Hawai’i and moved to Santa Ana, California, where we found a great school for her.

The local bishop didn’t need me, so I took my MSW (master’s of social work) from the University of Hawai’i and went into secular work, serving as assistant to the city manager of La Mirada, starting my own California corporation, being the program director for a drug treatment hospital, working with gang members, being a facilitator for California Deaf/Blind Services, and being an LCSW (licensed clinic social worker) with my own practice. Each job was fun and challenging.

On some weekends, I did fill-in church work, which I really enjoyed because the church wasn’t my employer. As a result, I started to think outside the box—way out of it.

The result: I have just finished my fourth book on how my outlook has changed, some of it radically. I really like where I stand now concerning God, Jesus, and most of the dogma and doctrine of the church. I think you might also find it provocative.

Annie (a former schoolteacher) and I retired in 2003 and are having a ball. We have always loved to travel and in our fifty-five years of marriage have visited sixty-seven different counties. We still ski six weeks every winter and hit the gym daily.

Irvine United Congregational Church—a Progressive, Global Mission, Open and Affirming, Just Peace church—is our church. We’re involved in projects locally, as well as in Mexico and Ecuador. Our lives are full and rich.

For details about my views, see my new book, Cramming for the Finals.