The Rev. William M. Thompson Was Pastor at Federated Church

The Rev. William M. Thompson, former minister of the Edgartown Federated Church and First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, died in Falmouth, Me., on Thursday, July 14.

Of Reverend Thompson's pastorate on the Vineyard, Henry Beetle Hough wrote in Once More The Thunderer:

"[Mr. Thompson] seemed shy and unassertive; his personality and leadership nevertheless exerted themselves and made him one of the strong reliances of the community. He was never demonstrative and when he took advanced positions he was so level-headed about it that even the most unwilling usually realized there was a good deal in what he said. His sermons brought the summer people flocking, a fact that was merely incidental to the larger success of his ministry. Sooner than the people liked, and somewhat to his own regret, he went on to a city church."

Reverend Thompson was born on Sept. 12, 1917, in Newport, R.I., where he attended public schools and graduated from Rogers High School. He was the son of William Miller Thompson, a tinsmith who had immigrated from Scotland when an infant, and Avis Elizabeth Snell Thompson.

He was graduated from Gordon College and attended Union Theological Seminary in New York city and Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre. He received a master of divinity from the latter institution in 1944. While serving as a student pastor at the North Tiverton Baptist Church in Rhode Island, he met Alice May Tongue, whom he married on Nov. 11, 1941. The couple lived briefly in Jamestown, R.I., and in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Reverend Thompson first came to the Vineyard in 1943, when he was called to serve as minister of both the Federated Church in Edgartown and the First Congregational Church in West Tisbury. The parsonage, which was located at various times on Clevelandtown Road in Edgartown and next to the pond on the east side of State Road in the center of West Tisbury, was always open to the congregation and to other members of the community. Bill and Alice especially enjoyed entertaining young school teachers who had recently arrived on the Island and who had few social ties here.

He was Grange Master in West Tisbury in 1948.

Bill was always proud to have given his children the special gift of being Vineyard natives, as they were both born on the Vineyard while he and Alice were year-round residents.

Between 1949 and 1960 Reverend Thompson served as pastor of the United Church of New Bedford and then as pastor of the Edgewood Congregational Church in Cranston, R.I. In each community where he served, he was widely known as a champion of social justice and a leader in ecumenicism.

Reverend Thompson moved to Maine in 1960 when he accepted a position as Associate Conference Minister of the Congregational Christian Conference of Maine (now the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ), and in 1964 he became the Conference Minister. In that capacity he served as "minister to the ministers" of the 248 Congregational churches in Maine.

Later in his career Reverend Thompson served in a position of national leadership in his denomination as General Secretary for Administration of the Stewardship Council of the United Church of Christ. He subsequently returned to the pastorate and served congregations in Chester Springs, Lionville, Limerick, and most recently Pottstown, Pa. At the time of his death he was pastor emeritus of St. Peter's United Church of Christ, Chester Springs, Pa.

After moving from the Vineyard in 1948, Bill and his family returned each summer for their vacations. In 1952 they purchased Respite, their Camp Ground cottage at 4 Trinity Park in Oak Bluffs. Bill and Alice loved spending summers here with their children and grandchildren.

They deeply loved the social intimacy of the Camp Ground and walked Oak Bluffs and East Chop daily. They also valued the simplicity of traditional Camp Ground living and never had either a telephone or television in the cottage. Their one concession to modernization was to install hot water and a shower in the 1960s, when their children were working at Irene's Restaurant and Walmsley's Restaurant on Circuit avenue.

The Thompsons could be found on any fair summer afternoon on the Edgartown side of State Beach, swimming tirelessly and enjoying the sun. They were part of a large circle of Camp Ground residents, many of them ministers and their families, who dubbed themselves the Marching and Chowder Society ("The MACS") and who descended on State Beach 50 or 60 strong each afternoon.

Reverend Thompson served on the board of directors of the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association and was the association's president for five years. The family cottage is currently owned by his son and family.

Reverend Thompson returned to Maine in 1996 to be near his son when Mrs. Thompson was failing due to Alzheimer's disease. After admitting his wife to an Alzheimer's facility, and feeling that his very full life was coming to a close, Reverend Thompson moved to the Ocean View Retirement Community in Falmouth, Me. There he formed many new attachments that gave his life renewed purpose and joy. On May 17, 2003, he married Barbara Mildram.

In addition to his wife he is survived by his daughter Barbara Ann Thompson Manring and her husband Roger of Great Barrington, his son W. Douglas Thompson and his wife Gail Strange Thompson of Portland and Oak Bluffs, and three grandchildren: Audrey Yvonne Manring of Great Barrington, Adam Douglas Thompson of Brooklyn, and Nathan Alexander Thompson, who is a student at Trinity College.

A private family service is planned for the time of interment in Portsmouth, R.I. Memorial gifts may be made to The Tabernacle Restoration Fund, Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, P.O. Box 1176, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.