Last week on Wednesday afternoon (March 1) the Regent College atrium was crowded with people who came to celebrate Bill Reimer’s retirement after his 34 years as manager of the Regent Bookstore.
The size, warmth and intensity of the gathering was a testimony to the uniqueness of both the person and the store.
In the years since Bill came in 1989 – which span almost two-thirds of the school’s history – the store has emerged not only as a prime symbol of Regent’s character, but as (quite possibility) the best theological bookstore in the world.
The many people who spoke at the microphone (after a generous sharing of food and conversation) made very clear the qualities of Bill Reimer which have contributed so much to the qualities of the store.
The majority were among the many who have worked in the bookstore over the years (including Paul Spilsbury, the Academic Dean and acting President of the college, who worked there as a student years ago). All of these former employees said they never had a better boss, who was clearly – along with his wife Dorcas – interested in them far more as persons than employees.
They all mentioned Bill’s friendliness, humility and remarkable memory – for books, faces and names. Several also spoke of his skill and imagination as an entrepreneur and a businessman.
Vision for books
But the uniqueness of the bookstore depends not only on these gifts, but on Bill’s whole vision for books. The late Jim Packer, another admirer of Bill, put it simply: “Bill loves books. And he loves God.”
That vision is perfect for Regent’s vision: the conviction that every aspect of human culture can best be understood within the light provided by Christ and the whole Christian story – thus the relevance of a Christian bookstore on the edge of a university.
The books which Bill has helped make available – increasingly to people all over the world – shine God’s light on all the works and worlds of human culture.
People who walk into Regent from UBC encounter the large calligraphied words of Psalm 119:130 on the wall outside store: the “The entrance of thy words gives light.” The mural was commissioned by the Alloway family, whose generosity guaranteed that the Regent building would have a large bookstore.
As Carl Armerding – who was one of Regent’s founding faculty, and president when the Regent building was designed and built – said in his remarks, some thought too much space was dedicated to the selling of books.
Bill, who came as manager in Regent’s second year in the new building, had the privilege of vindicating that use of space. Last week’s celebration acknowledged how magnificently he has done that.
Led by books
Bill’s brief concluding words were perhaps the high point of the last week’s event. He briefly described his Ukrainian Mennonite roots, and told how his encounter with science as a student caused him to waver in the faith that nurtured him.
Books led him out of that difficult time. And he wanted to share the help they had given – so he started selling books at his church – and has never stopped since.
In his talk Bill held up a book written by Klaus Bockmuehl, a former Regent theology professor who died in 1989, the month Bill came to Regent. It is titled Books: God’s Tools in the History of Salvation. Bill said it expresses well his own feeling as a bookseller.
He also referred to that important book in a short article he posted a few years ago on the bookstore website, cleverly titled Theology’s Last (Book) Stand.
He quoted Bockmuehl’s words:
The printed word remains also today an ideal tool of Christian proclamation facing a powerful spirit of secularism and Godlessness: it may well again prove a sling of David for a giant doomed to destruction.
Bockmuehl’s words are far more relevant now than when he wrote them. Many fear that the deluge of digital data now at everyone’s fingertips spells the end of the tradition of careful reading, and thus of books and bookstores.
One of the melancholy reasons why Regent’s bookstore is one of the best in the world is that there are so few of them left. That recognition gave a bittersweet quality to last week’s celebration.
Bill has left the bookstore in the capable hands of Kim Boldt, a long-time co-worker. And Bill, who lives across the street from Regent, will still be present. So the bookstore will remain a beacon of hope in a darkening culture. Bill is well aware that these are difficult times for Christian culture, and culture generally.
A few years ago Regent’s journal CRUX published an issue honouring Bill. The words from one of those articles make a fitting close to this one:
Good bookstores are beacons of light in a threatening dark age. Good bookstore managers are thus themselves ‘lantern bearers.’
The Lantern Bearers is the title of a sadly-neglected book by Rosemary Sutcliff, part of a series of young adult novels which tell of the decline of Roman Britain – which by then was largely Christian – in the face of invading barbarians.
In that book an old man, struggling with a few others to hold on to the remnants of Christian civilization, reflects:
I sometimes think that we stand at sunset . . . it may be that night will close over us in the end, but I believe that morning will come again. Morning always grows again out of darkness, though maybe not for the people who saw the sun go down. We are the lantern bearers my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind.
Time will tell whether or not we are in the dusk of a new dark age. But whatever lies ahead for books and reading, there are disconcerting similarities to past times of intellectual and spiritual darkness. In such a time we are thankful for lantern bearers in the form of bookstore managers like Bill and the books which they place before us.
Loren Wilkinson is expecting his new book, Circles and the Cross: Cosmos, Consciousness, Christ and the Human Place in Creation, to come out later this year.
His earlier books include Earthkeeping: Christian Stewardship of Natural Resources and Caring for Creation in Your Own Backyard (co-authored with Mary-Ruth Wilkinson).
He joined the Regent College faculty in 1981 and was appointed Professor Emeritus there in 2016. His teaching interests include Christianity and the arts, philosophy and earthkeeping. He has written many scholarly and popular articles developing a Christian environmental ethic and exploring the human relationship to the natural world in its environmental, aesthetic, scientific and religious dimensions.