Bible Student, Spiritual Companion, Ship Builder
For 40 years, Bill Sykes was a research engineer for the U.S. Navy, focused on making ships and personnel more capable of surviving attacks. Then he went to Virginia Theological Seminary, graduating in 2000 with a degree in theological studies. But Bill didn’t want to be ordained. His goal? Supporting people in making ethical decisions in their workplaces and their lives. In 2010, Bill and his wife Peggy moved into the Pointe at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads, where he quickly became a spiritual leader.
In-Depth Bible Study
GHBC was between chaplains when Bill Sykes arrived, and there was a need for someone to lead a Bible study group – a need that meshed perfectly with Bill’s desire to teach the Bible. But Bill wanted to teach at an in-depth level, as he had studied the Bible in seminary. The result is GHBC’s biweekly In-Depth Bible Study group, which is currently continuing its year-long study of the gospel of Luke. “We analyze it to death,” Bill chuckles, noting that he and co-leader Tony Tambasco bring different methods to the classroom.
“I use the Socratic method, based on asking questions,” explains Bill, “while Tony uses a lecture method. We sit side by side and lead discussions” of Bible passages. For example, to understand the meaning of parables in the gospels, you need to know about the culture of Jesus’ time, Bill continues, and Tony gives this understanding. Then Bill might ask what it means to us today.
Since founding the Bible study group, Bill has alternated between gospels and Old Testament books. “We’ve done Matthew, then Exodus, Mark, then King David in several books, Ruth, and now Luke,” he says. The study group typically numbers 10 to 18; while a few are retired clergy, most are lay people.
Bill Sykes, center, and Tony Tambasco, left, lead In-Depth Bible Study in November 2019.
In-Depth Bible Study, November 2019
GHBC’s Spiritual Companions group was started by Joyce Glover, who, together with her husband Ray, were among Bill’s teachers at the Episcopal seminary. “Joyce taught spiritual formation at the seminary when I was there,” Bill says. The Glovers had retired to GHBC, and when Bill arrived, Joyce asked Bill to co-lead the group with her; as her health failed, he took over leadership.
The core of the Spiritual Companions’ biweekly meetings is discussion of a book of a spiritual nature. “We’re now reading Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak,” Bill says, “and before that we read The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. We really enjoyed that book. We found lots of support for finding joy at GHBC.” Books with a spiritual dimension are selected by the group, and group members lead each meeting’s discussion. “We make a real effort to tie the content [of the books] to our lives at GHBC,” Bill adds.
“At each meeting, we ask for concerns and celebrations, then have an open prayer, and then we have two or three poems,” Bill continues. A big favorite is the poetry of Mary Oliver, as well as Wendell Barry’s work. Meditation is a new addition to the sessions. “We’ll extend the meeting to an hour and a half, and Paula Endo will lead 30 minutes of meditation,” Bill says.
An underlying goal of Spiritual Companions “is to increase spiritual growth, and to take direction of that spiritual growth,” Bill notes. “As new people come in, the group changes and evolves. Some are real seekers and intensely spiritual. Some want stronger relationships with God, and sometimes they don’t even know that.”
Bill Sykes, right, prepares to lead Spiritual Companions, November 2019.
Compline and More
Together with Loren Meade, Bill initiated Compline, a Sunday night worship service at the GHBC chapel, in 2017. “We use the Book of Common Prayer, and leadership comes from within the group. We’ve added three or four hymns to each service. Attendees are mostly Episcopalian and Catholic, and they love the old hymns,” he says. Bill, as a layman, leads the services. There is no sermon, but rather “lots of prayer.”
Bill Sykes, third from left, at a November 2019 Compline service
Bill’s many other activities at GHBC include serving as a library volunteer and as a substitute at the second floor hospitality desk. He was first chair of the Resident Council’s Spiritual Life Committee, and he has served on the search committees for GHBC chaplains. He was elected to a seat on the Resident Council in 2012 to 2014. In 2012, Bill and Peggy chaired the annual Employee Gift Fund.
Life Before GHBC
Jesse William Sykes – known firmly to all as “Bill” – was born in New Mexico, one in a long line of eldest sons named Jesse. His father was Jesse Clifford Sykes, his grandfather was Jesse Polk Sykes, and earlier ancestors included Jesse Christopher Columbus Sykes and Jesse Zadock Sykes. His family has traced the line of first sons named Jesse in the U.S. back at least to 1780, and a Sykes who arrived in Jamestown in 1630 might be a direct ancestor.
When Bill was just three, his father moved the family to Alexandria, Va., to take a job as a machine shop supervisor at the Torpedo Factory. Growing up in Alexandria, Bill went back west for summers. After high school, he headed to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, known as Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va., where he earned a degree in civil engineering with a structures option, meaning that he learned to build bridges, planes and ships.
While enrolled at Virginia Tech, Bill worked for the U.S. Navy at the David Taylor Model Basin, and on graduating in 1959 he went full-time. He designed surface ships and submarines for the Navy, and after six years was promoted to management. While he was a civilian throughout his entire career with the Navy, Bill traveled extensively. “I went to sea a lot,” he notes, and work took him for two year-long tours in China Lake, Calif., and for three months to Scotland. In 1995, Bill retired as Associate Director for Survivability and Live Fire Technology at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda, Md. His goal throughout his career was to make ships and personnel safer.
Congratulations from wife Peggy and children Billy and Suzy on receiving an award,
Even when he graduated from Virginia Tech, Bill was thinking of seminary. He visited three seminaries in 1959, but they did not encourage lay attendance back then, unlike today. “So I retired to seminary,” he says with a smile. Bill enrolled at Virginia Theological Seminary, an Episcopal institution, although he was raised Baptist and is Disciples of Christ today. “I attended for five years. In my last year, I studied ministry of the laity, and formed the idea of creating a company to support churches help their members address critical ethical problems in their jobs.”
Seminary graduation, 2000
Bill’s thesis was “Lay Discipleship in the Workplace.” On his seminary graduation in 2000, his thesis work lead directly to his launch of Connecting Sunday to Monday. His successful consultancy assisted churches in setting up a support committee to empower church members to support each other when faced with tough ethical decisions at work. Participants worked in a wide range of industries, but through support groups and by sharing phone numbers, they could seek advice and prayer from their peers.
On December 23, 1960, Bill and Peggy married in Alexandria. Peggy taught at George Washington High School, the school they had both attended. Their son Jesse William “Billy” was born in 1962 and their daughter Suzy in 1965. Today, both children and their two grandchildren live nearby. Bill and Peggy are active members of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Falls Church, where Bill teaches Bible and worships.
Bill and Peggy married on December 23, 1960.