Lay labors on in spite of disability

Robert Smith
Pastor Billy Lay uses desktop magnifier to allow him to work with texts. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

PRUE — Pastor Billy J. Lay has lost his wife and almost all of his sight, but at age 78 he labors on in the vineyard of his Lord with a ready sense of humor, a faithful dog named “Tiny” and a kind niece, Dean Henley, who looks after him.

Lay, who spent eight years in the U.S. Air Force and also worked as a carpenter, is the pastor of a small Bapist congregation that meets in the old Pershing school, located along State Highway 11. The congregation’s name is Victory Baptist Church and they are perhaps 12-15 strong on a good attendance day, he said. Lay has been with them since 2013.

Lay explains he lost his sight several years ago, as a result of strokes in his optic nerves. He could make out the outline of his interviewer last Saturday afternoon, sitting across a table, including the person’s eye glasses, but could not see details like ears and nose and eyes.

He uses powerful magnifying equipment provided to him with the help of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to read the Bible and related texts that he consults in his ministry. He also uses audio recordings of books.

“The VA has been very good to me,” Lay said.

Tiny curls up and sleeps on his master’s lap as Lay talks about his health and his ministerial calling. He notes that he was called to Christian ministry when he was 26 and says his health remains good other than the problem with his sight.

“They said I was not a candidate for the strokes; it’s just unusual,” Lay said, commenting that his doctors didn’t understand what had happened to him. “We know what happened but we don’t know why.”

The pastor also shares moments of humor with his niece, Dean. He jokes that she “cooks sometimes, when she wants to,” and she replies with a chuckle that he eats, “sometimes, when it’s good.” Pastor Lay’s wife, Sheila, passed away in August 2017 and he spent several months living by himself except for the company of his dog, before Dean began to care for him.

Lay says he has offered to resign his pastorate and let the congregation find another pastor, but the members of the church have declined to accept a resignation.

“I offered to resign five different times and they didn’t want me to, so I don’t ask anymore,” Lay said. He described Victory Baptist as a church where the Bible is faithfully taught. The church recently finished a study of the book of Galatians and is now in Ephesians, he said.

“I do like prophetic events in the Bible,” Lay said, “but you can’t just concentrate on prophecy. You have to teach something else, too.

“We don’t beat people over the head with the scriptures,” Lay added, but he made plain the central faith concept Victory Baptist focuses on is the power of “the shed blood of Christ.”

Lay describes Victory Baptist as a caring congregation that tithes well. The church needs a pianist and the building needs some repairs, but two new doors were recently installed and the congregation has generously sent 100 Bibles to a pastor and congregation in Cambodia.

“We’re Bible-conscious,” Pastor Lay emphasizes.