William A. Turner was a lay teacher and Bible scholar. He worked for the Agricultural Extension Service at Virginia Polytechnic Institute up until about 1970. Because of his knowledge and passion for Bible teaching (which churches in Blacksburg at that time did not want), he bought a piece of land and built with his own hands the "Blacksburg Community Bible Class" on the corner of Gilbert and Pepper Streets near the VPI campus. There he offered courses on Bible topics requested by the class. These he taught on Sunday mornings, along with some hymns and prayer. The attendance in these classes was typically 6-8 people, mostly businessmen from the community, including Elmer Metcalf, but also a few college students, including me (Paul Arveson). Others who visited in the period 1962-66 included Timothy Schoechle, Art McClinton and Tom Dolle.
Bill Turner was an excellent Bible teacher, who used a Scofield Bible and knew it deeply. He would set the pace for any seminary-trained Bible scholar, although he had no such training and was a layman. Also, he was an epileptic. Occasionally, in his office or even during a prayer meeting, he would fall to the floor and thrash about, frightening everyone around him. He took great risks in constructing and maintaining the Bible Class building and teaching the class. Although he visited NIH for testing, doctors could never cure his epilepsy or reduce his symptoms.
Blacksburg Community Bible Class, circa 1965. From left to right: Tim Schoechle, Bill Turner, Paul Arveson, Doug Gronberg(?), Art McClinton. Photo by Tom Dolle.
The picture above shows the building he built. It had one unadorned large room, which allowed for the seating of upwards of 150 people in folding chairs. The first time I visited was in 1962, to see a film released by the Virginia State Government regarding communism. Remember that in the 1960's, communism was considered a serious threat, and young people admired the committment of the communists in other countries, who would give their lives for their ideology. We wondered what created this strong passion, and why American institutions (such as the schools and many churches) offered such bland alternatives. When Bill Turner led singing and started talking passionately about Jesus Christ, it occurred to me (an atheist at the time) that perhaps here is the true "heart of America": the unadorned Christian faith of a man willing to risk his life for his beliefs. Maybe Christianity had something going for it after all....
Hear him and judge for yourself:
"William A. Turner, "Death: What is it? Then what?" (Blacksburg, VA, 1965)