One night, the Rev. Bill Finlator, by then retired, was getting an award at a big banquet in Raleigh. One of the members of his flock during his days at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church was unsure of the directions, but when he got there he told Finlator, “I just followed all the bumper stickers with peace signs, liberal slogans and Democrats on ’em. I figured, ‘They’re going to see Finlator.’ ” The old preacher laughed. If the left shoe fit, he’d happily wear it.
Finlator would have been 100 this year (and he came close to making it, dying in 2006), and his church is hosting a commemorative series, “W.W. Finlator Lectures in Faith and Social Justice,” in his honor through this coming weekend. Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary Professor Gary Dorrien is giving the keynote speech Friday at 6 p.m. at the church, and there will be a panel discussion Saturday and a worship service Sunday led by Dorrien.
Faith and Social Justice were Finlator’s guiding lights to be sure. Though he occasionally characterized himself as a “ham,” his members at Pullen knew him also to be a compassionate pastor, visiting the sick, comforting families in need, staying on call at all hours of the day and night, volunteering as a prison chaplain. On weekends, he’d often be standing in front of a courthouse somewhere, holding a sign for civil rights or women’s rights or against the Vietnam war.
Finlator believed that ministers had an obligation to become involved in issues of importance that affected those who were disadvantaged or discriminated against. The people of Raleigh, whether members of his church or not, knew that every Sunday, and particularly during times of turmoil, Bill Finlator would have something to say.
The late Beth Paschal of Raleigh, who with her late husband Dr. George Paschal was among the church’s most prominent and long-standing members, used to say of the church, “Telling someone you are a member of Pullen can be the beginning, or the end, of a conversation.”
But church members stayed with Finlator through controversies and every challenge that came along. They were proud to be at Pullen and proud to stand with him.
(Information about the events is available by calling Pullen Memorial at 919-828-0897.)