Michael Williams
Michael Williams

Nashville - Michael Williams passed from this life on March 19, 2018, at the age of 67. He was a pastor in several churches in the Nashville area, most recently West End United Methodist, before retiring last year. He was also a preacher, writer, poet, storyteller, playwright, teacher, singer (after a fashion) of old songs, a lover of cats, and the kindest man many of us ever met, although he could be fierce as an advocate of the poor or oppressed. Quite a few folks knew him as the best friend they'll ever have. He was a mentor to many others. As for everyone else, even if you only met him once, well then, you were Michael's friend, too.

Michael started out life in Murray, Kentucky, but the family "home place" was at Land Between the Lakes. A graduate of Vanderbilt, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and Northwestern, Michael had all the degrees, but he was proud of his country heritage and never hid it behind his education. He was a fervent defender of Appalachian culture and the dignity of its residents. His stories and sermons often featured a neighbor known as "Granny" or his Aunt Minerva.

Michael was a talker and seemed to remember everything he had ever read. His wife, Margaret, says he was a savant. She even specified what kind of savant, but there's no need to get into that kind of detail. He could (and would) talk about everything from Aramaic and Torah to poke sallet. He could speak at an exhibit at the Frist on Friday, read poetry in a tavern on Saturday, and teach nursing students how to better listen to their patients on Monday. With his theatre background, he was known to recite long Shakespeare soliloquies, and not just the famous ones, either.

He could listen, too. Michael was like Mr. Rogers with a grown-up vocabulary. Compassion and empathy just flowed out of the man. His hugs were legendary, if a little scratchy. Michael's gentle spirit probably accounts for the fact that kids loved him. That, and the fact that he actually got down and listened to them.

As a preacher, Michael was unique. He could weave together a story about King David, a mobile home, and a mayonnaise jar he dug up behind his garage, and you would still be wondering halfway through Sunday dinner how he transformed those things into a gospel of Christ's unconditional love, mercy, and inclusion. And in a nutshell, that's what he preached every time - that there's room for everyone. Michael walked the walk, too. He fed the hungry, worked for the disadvantaged and marginalized, and loved everyone who wandered into hugging range. If Margaret had ever let him near the debit card, there's no telling how much he would have given away.

Many people around the country know Michael primarily as a storyteller. He was good at it, too, as evidenced by his being the featured storyteller at Jonesborough and winning the liar's contest at Mule Day in Columbia. He became the Storyteller in Residence at Martin Methodist College after his retirement. At least that's what he told us.

Michael authored several books about preaching and storytelling, as well a number of published poems, including a collection of his poems that received the prestigious Academy of American Poets Prize when he was a student at Northwestern University. In the last couple of years, he returned to his early love of poetry, publishing two chapbooks and doing public readings. Quite a few people have read and listened to considerably more poetry than they thought was healthy, because that's what you had to put up with if you wanted to be around him.

And we all wanted to be around him. When someone is that intelligent, creative, and compassionate, he's going to draw a crowd. Gentleness and kindness are underrated these days, and we all depended on Michael to supply them. He'd readily admit his shortcomings, and he'd be embarrassed by all this fuss, but the truth is that he was the best human many of us will ever know. We sure could have used more time with him, and those of us who were counting on him to preach our funerals or marry our kids are going to have to adjust our expectations. If you never met Michael, you'll just have to look for him in the kindness of everyone who loved him.

Michael leaves behind his beloved wife Margaret, his cherished daughters, Sarah and Lizzy, Sarah's fiancé, Sean, as well as a number of bowties, a few thousand books, several partly finished manuscripts and bottles of whiskey, and a host of friends who now must take up his vision of a caring and just world.

Visitation will take place on Monday, March 26 from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. in McWhirter Hall at West End United Methodist Church, 2200 West End Ave, Nashville, TN 37203. Visitation will continue on Tuesday, March 27, at 1:00 p.m. A Memorial Service will follow in the Sanctuary of West End United Methodist Church at 3:00 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the West End UMC Scholarship Fund, Fourth Story Theatre, Miriam's Promise, or Project Transformation.



Published by Tennessean on Mar. 25, 2018.
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MEMORIAL EVENTS
Mar
26
Visitation
5:00p.m. - 7:00p.m.
McWhirter Hall at West End United Methodist Church
2200 West End Ave, Nashville, TN
Mar
27
Visitation
1:00p.m.
McWhirter Hall at West End United Methodist Church
2200 West End Ave, Nashville, TN
Mar
27
Memorial service
3:00p.m.
Sanctuary of West End United Methodist Church
TN
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46 Entries
Even though it has been a year, I still feel Michael's presence through people's comments through social media that sound as if he is still with us and among us. He was very important to our family during good and sad times as our pastor. A wonderful man who touched many never really leaves us.
Luann Landers
March 23, 2019
Lynn Laughlin
March 19, 2019
Somehow I missed that Michael had passed away. I had the privilege of being in his presence and hearing his stories as well as learning how to tell them on several occasions through Scarritt, CEF, and other venues. I know words cannot replace the loss of a husband, a daddy, a friend- just know you are surrounded with many who love you as well. Grace and peace from East Texas.
Patricia Parrish Ricks
April 10, 2018
Michael will be missed by everyone who had the chance to know him. His story telling left ever lasting joy with each of us forever. He will be in our memories always!.............
Roy Phelps
March 29, 2018
Rabbi, you will be sorely missed.
Clay Ferguson
March 27, 2018
I had just a passing acquaintance with MIchael Williams through Sister Kathleen Flood. I heard him tell the story of Moses; remember being so drawn into Michael's words and images. Somehow the line between MIchael and Moses and God disappeared and all that was left was somehow marvelous and earnestly Present. One day I brought Michael an Andy Offutt Irwin CD that I wanted to share. I can still see the twinkle in Michael's eyes when I mentioned that some of Andy's stories were a bit 'colorful'. I never saw MIchael again, but my heart warms and grows bigger at the mention of his name. That is how you know you have encountered someone 'special'. There must be a place where twinkling eyes and belly laughs and holy truths and unimaginable love gather together. Surely, Michael is the the center.
Judith Bone
Acquaintance
March 27, 2018
I had the privilege of meeting Michael and Margaret and Sarah and Elizabeth when I taught music at Sylvan Park School. They made an impression on my heart that has never gone away. It is so sad to hear of Michael's passing. But, what a wonderful life he lived! I've never known a more compassionate and caring person. It was an honor to have known him. My love and sympathy to the family.
Steve Deasy
March 27, 2018
We hurt for the family and for all of us he made feel like family. His death came the way wed all like to die and there could not be a more fitting time for his memorial than Holy Week!
Kay Gray
Friend
March 27, 2018
dearly missed
March 27, 2018
March 27, 2018
I am so sad I never met this "Man Of God' that was loved by many loyal faithful followers! I have heard so much over the years from my Sister in Law "Sallie King Norton" the inspirational unconditional love he shared! My Heart goes out to all his family and all the people that were blessed and comforted by his kindness...
Linda King
March 27, 2018
What a wonderful gift to this world he was. Thank you to his family for sharing him with us.
Annie B. Williams
March 26, 2018
I am so saddened by the passing of this wonderful man who gave the sermon at both of my grandparents funerals and who I saw walking down our street daily, with his big beard and the kindest smile. My heart goes out to the Williams family, and especially to Lizzy who my children adore as their art teacher. You are all in our thoughts and prayers and we will continue to be better people for having known Reverend Michael Williams.
Avery Dickins de Giron
Neighbor
March 26, 2018
Margaret, condolences and deepest sympathies to you and the girls. Kel & I are saddened by your loss but so grateful for having known Michael and experienced his kindness.
Rick Wilson
March 26, 2018
Nicest person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I enjoyed listening to his heart felt stories when he was at Bellemeade his sermons always hit home God Bless Michael.
Jerry Gilchrist
Friend
March 26, 2018
Margaret, Sarah, Lizzy Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time! Please know that your father had touched so many of us in such a special way. May his love comfort you all! Thank you for sharing him with all of us!
Mylinda Parker
Friend
March 26, 2018
Michael and I were co-workers at Belle Meade United Church for several years. He was an amazing human being. Whenever we saw each other we always stopped to catch up. I just saw Margaret and Sarah a few weeks ago and told her that I knew Michael was enjoying his retirement...doing all the things he loved. I am saddened beyond words about losing him. He was a light to the world and for those who knew him and loved him, our world is forever diminished. My condolences to Margaret, Lizzy and Sarah, I have been thinking about you and praying for your healing.
Terry Kornman
Friend
March 26, 2018
Michael was, for me, a role model whose very presence gave me confidence that I could be a better pastor, a better preacher, a better human being. His erudition was beyond fathoming, yet he carried himself with humility, charm and always a tinge of humor. Michael's ability to bring you into the spell of his storytelling was effortless, or so it always seemed, and his passion for the least, the last and the marginalized was grounded in the simple dignity of his agrarian roots. Much love to the Williams family and to all who were at home with Michael like family themselves. He's terribly missed, deeply loved and always remembered.
March 25, 2018
I first met Michael in 1979-1980 at Cookeville, where he had landed for a few months to, among other things, work on his Doctorate. He came to the Welsey Foundation at TTU and participated with the students. I recall him leading one of our retreats. He was a gifted storyteller who captured the attention and imagination of several Wesley college students with his tales of "Big John" and others. I count it a blessing to have experienced him. Thanks to Rev. Carleton Thackston and Marge Hargrove for seeing that he entered the lives of several students at TTU Wesley Foundation.
David Bass
March 25, 2018
Mike will be missed by all. Dink and I enjoyed knowing him and listing to his stories. Prayers to his friends and family
Nancy Newman
March 25, 2018
I was one of the people that met Michael once and felt like he was a friend. I had the privilege of havIng coffee with him 10 days ago. We talked for almost 2 hours about his faith, his life, his daughters, and all the spiritual questions I had. He was humble and brilliant. When I got home I immediately called my mom and said, Mother, you have to meet with this man when you come in town. I felt like I just had coffee with Richard Rohr (one of my favorite authors). When I got the news I was devastated. I learned so much in our short encounter, and I was already planning for my next visit with him. He was gentle and had a kindness in his eyes that I will never forget.
Margie Moore
Acquaintance
March 25, 2018
Michael was one of the most generous people I have ever known. Back when I was at Davis-Kidd, we knew we always had a headliner for our storytelling festival. He shared his wonderful gifts with so many people of all ages and each person was the richer for having known him.

I will always think of him on the plaza at the Southern Festival of Books, where a chance encounter would turn into a "do you remember" fest with a hug and a twinkle. I'm so glad he left so many words but so saddened that no more are coming. I just have imagine the good times in heaven with Michael, John Edgerton, and Will Campbell all swapping stories.
Ellen Myrick
March 25, 2018
Without any doubt the kindest man I knew. He made it look so easy. God's peace and comfort to the family.
Tracy Rugg
Friend
March 25, 2018
When Mike Williams became the associate pastor at First Methodist in Columbia, TN, he also became the youth pastor. He also started a children's storytelling theater group. I was lucky enough to take part in that group. Mike was so kind to me as an adolescent. He listened and led by example. I looked up to him mightily, and I adored him. My deepest condolences to his wife and children. He was a wonderful man and spiritual leader.
Beth Watkins Fullerton
March 25, 2018
Michael was one of the most wonderful of souls.
His comments at Rick Osgood's funeral were so healing and appropriate.

so sad to loose this man of God.

Kem
March 25, 2018
I'm so heart broken. many prayers for the family.Thanks for inspiring me to pray and learn there is to love the Lord.I'll forever miss you brother Michael. Rest In Paradise
Tippi Maddox
March 25, 2018
A friend, a great man, a story teller, a changer of lives. Gone to soon. To know him was to be embraced in warmth of the human spirit, understanding and care. There are not enough words to characterize his essence. I will remember him always in order that he may live on through me and others that I share him with. If there are angels in heaven may they greet him with trumpets of welcome and songs of Hallelujah! Sweet dreams, Michael, sweet dreams.
Patricia Davis
March 25, 2018
Thank you for all that you have done. Your smile and energy will be with the people you influenced forever.
Jake
March 25, 2018
I have a different opinion about his singing. I thought he was too modest about it -- it was quite tuneful.
Love to all of y'all.
Karah Stokes
March 25, 2018
This obituary sounds almost like he might have told it himself. Thank you so much.
My love, and my gratitude at their sharing the big guy with the world, is with his family, right now and forever.
When my own dad died, I wanted something to remember him by; I wanted to be able to touch something that he had touched. Pretty quickly I realized what that was: any time I hug somebody in my family, or a lot of people outside my family, I'm hugging someone my dad hugged.
I bet that if you hug *anybody* east of the Mississippi River, or lots of people in Europe after that cruise, or in the holy Land, or any place he ever visited, you'll be hugging someone Michael Williams hugged. Think about that. Do that.
Karah Stokes
March 25, 2018
I still can't comprehend your passing. Am so grateful to have known you, and to have counted you a friend. Travel gently.
Karen McElmurray
March 25, 2018
Michael had a pure soul. He exemplified Christianity in his actions and words. He touched the lives of thousands with his sermons and poetry. He was with me the evening of a very emotional and important jury case ruling as a steady pillar He gave genuine and needed counsel to my husband when our marriage was rocky. I am deeply grateful for his time in our lives. He was a true friend . There aren't enough words to describe the love and gratitude I have for him. Tell people you love how you feel about them.. Life is too short not to express your true heart.
Lynda Jones
March 25, 2018
From labor to refreshment
Jules
March 25, 2018
Michael- I miss you so very much. Thank you for everything you added to my life and my family"s lives. I promise to stay close to your girls as I love them dearly too.
Julie Shadburne
Friend
March 25, 2018
Heaven is so much sweeter with Mike there. Our love and prayers to you Margaret and family.
Mack and Martha Shaw
Friend
March 25, 2018
Lorena Bass (and family) from Blakemore UMC remember Michael Williams with fond memories and much love. We will be praying prayers of comfort for Margaret, Sarah, and Lizzie as you grieve your loss. Our hearts are heavy with yours as we are never ready to lose our husband and father. Love Lorena (Rene) Bass, Trish Bass Holliday , and Gail Bass Castle
Gail Bass Castle
March 25, 2018
We met him at a shared Thanksgiving service at Vine Street on West End at the time when The Temple and several churches exchanged Thanksgiving service locations each year. He was the preacher, we were part of the congregation , it was 1997. He was a wonder! One of a kind, spellbinding, touch your soul, stir your thoughts, gentle human. He and my husband, Rabbi Davis, became immediate and fast friends. They preached together, they broke bread together, they talked, they debated, they shared their pulpits and they laughed and learned together. He made my Jewish husband an honorary Methodist - I have the cherished plaque to prove it. It is on the wall of David's study. Oh, what a laugh Michael had, and that twinkle in his eye. We became acquainted with Margaret who is a light in her own more quite way and the guiding light for Michael's life. While we have been away from Nashville for many years now, Michael has never strayed far from our thoughts. We know that he had enormous impact in the Nashville community with friends we had no idea would encounter his magic and so many others. We knew his stories and very essence would change lives for the better. Who knows how many untold stories there are? We are sending all of our love to Margraret and his girls. We are with you in sadness and spirit. Remember that as long as his memory is alive he is with you. Michael is the definition of mensch. Our hearts have broken but we will always remember him. We thank God for the gift he gave us all - Michael.
Patricia Davis
March 25, 2018
Michael used to come into the Alektor Cafe and Books often. He always had a presence of grace, dignity and a unique connection with the other world. We loved it when he came in to visit with us. God grant him peace and a blessed repose. He and his family is in our thoughts and prayers. A special man of God.
March 24, 2018
What would I say about Michael? That he was there for my resurrection of body and mind and over several years, also my spirit. For those you had the joy to know and spend time with Michael, you are a living testimony that he will live on through the way you were changed and how you now love others. My heart is broken for Margaret, Sarah and Lizzie and their loved ones. But i pray that we will each find a way forward to carry Micheal with us to share his wisdom in a hurting world. Diane Lee-Smith
Diane Lee-Smith
Friend
March 24, 2018
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
March 24, 2018
Heartfelt condolences and sincere thanks for sharing Michael with Dawn Seidenschwarz and me. I loved learning about faith and values from Michael, but I think the joy he brought to Dawn as she was able to be at Blakemore UMC on staff with him those years was an even greater blessing. We cherish every memory, and send you our love.
Bill Hollaway
March 24, 2018
Loved this man. Nuf said.
Todd Freeman
March 24, 2018
Michael was certainly one of the best human beings that I have ever known. He embodied the spirit of the gospels every day. We are all so sad that he had to leave us so soon.
Boyce Wanamaker
March 24, 2018
First of all, that was one of the best obituaries I have ever read. It captured Michael totally. It's hard to believe we, in this earthly world, have to continue on without him. However, Heaven is so totally rocking right now. Hopefully Michael has connected with my mom, who was the second best storytelling pastor I knew. It was a pleasure to have known him. Love to all the Williams.
Cindy Kleinrock
March 24, 2018
I never knew you, but I sure wish I had. After reading what so many people have written about you, and knowing that four of my friends knew you, I know I would have been able to call you friend, too. I have no doubt you would have been willing to sit down with me and answer some of my most burning spiritual questions! What a lovely person I know you were. May you be telling stories now to the heavenly father, I understand he's a pretty good listener
Lynn Laughlin
March 24, 2018
I am one of thousands whose llfe was touched by the life of this lovable shepherd! May God comfort his family, friends and the Church who will greatly miss him! Rev. Jeannie Higgins (Greeneville, TN - Holston Conf)
Jeannie Higgins
March 24, 2018
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