Professor recalls his journey as theologian

William Apel, professor of religious studies, meets with audience members after delivering his final lecture April 28 in Jonasson Hall, saying a farewell to students, colleagues and community members after 36 years of teaching at Linfield College. Katie Pitchford/Photo editor

Professor of Religious Studies William Apel drew on 36 years of experience as a Linfield faculty member during his final lecture April 28.

He used imagery to reflect on the past and convey his personal theology about love and compassion.

“I wanted it to be a time for reflection, a time for me to say thank you and for me to say what it is I think I have been doing here all these years,” he said.

Apel spoke about his experiences at Linfield, memorable students from his tenure as chaplain and lessons he has learned from his years of research.

“The idea was developed from the image of an open window,” he said. “As a professor, I try to open the window for students, but the students have to look out and see.”

Apel divided the window metaphor into four aspects. The first, he called his Assisi window, referring to the city in Italy.

“All of a sudden, I could see even the unseen,” he said as he spoke about Assisi. “There was no voice; there was no thing. But there was God. My experience was that which is unmistakable.”

Junior Abby Lundberg appreciated Apel’s transparency and eagerness to share his spiritual encounters.

“I think it shows a lot about him that he has a willingness to engage with spiritual things,” she said. “It’s so interesting how he explained that you can open those windows and experience grace and compassion.”

Apel mentioned people he encountered during various parts of his life, including students he mentored as college chaplain, which he served as for 20 years. He also read a letter from a former student who was inspired to walk 120 miles on a pilgrimage after taking his classes.

“I like that he talked about students in his lecture,” senior Ashley Farr said. “He has the same respect for us as he does for those who have earned it.”

Because Apel devoted much of his life to educating college students about world religion, he mentioned that understanding different beliefs has shaped him as a religion professor and as a theologian.

He mentioned several prominent theologians including Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Merton in what he referred to as his “research window.”

“I look for what’s good and what’s true in all world religions,” he said. “But love is the final answer. What I’m trying to teach about and point to is a life of love and compassion.”

The lecture was Apel’s last as a Linfield professor.
“In the last few years, people would ask me when I was going to retire,” he said. “I would always tell them that I would know when it was time. I know it’s time.”

Brittany Baker/Staff reporter
Brittany Baker can be reached at

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