Vietnam Army vet follows namesake into ministry

The Rev. Bill Otis and his wife Cindy are Indian River Colony Club residents.

The Rev. Bill Otis has a knack for celebrating his birthday at some of the world’s most dangerous locales.

In 1969, Otis reached age 21 while serving in the Army in Vietnam. Fast-forward to 2009, when the reverend turned 61, this time in the middle of Afghanistan.

Otis, who was born and raised on a dairy farm in New York, joined the Army at 19.

“I knew I was going to get drafted, so I enlisted,” the Indian River Colony Club resident said.

He wanted to train as a mechanical engineer. The Army had other plans, however, and asked him if he could type. He could, so Otis became the company clerk, a position that provided a little extra protection from becoming a war casualty.

It would be nice to add that during those years, Otis felt a strong calling to the church. That was not the case.

“I had no intention of becoming a minister,” he said.

The call did come, loud and clear, a few years later, when Otis was working in human resources management for a Canadian firm just across the border in New York while also in the Reserves. By that time, he was preaching as a certified lay minister and considering the seminary part-time.

When the company let him loose, Otis considered it “God-incidental” that he had time to attend divinity school full-time and promptly enrolled at Queen’s Theological College in Kingston, Ontario. He later earned his master’s of divinity degree from Duke University.

While he initially did not consider the religious life, in retrospect, Otis believes his path was written even before he was born.

“I was named for my Uncle Bill, who went into the ministry in his midlife,” he explained.

Otis served as Methodist pastor to congregations in New York, North Carolina and Florida before rejoining the military in 2008 after he discovered the Army had an opening for a mentor for the Afghan National Army. On the third day of his assignment, Otis was enjoying breakfast with a fellow soldier, not knowing that soldier was the commanding general. The general took a liking to Otis over breakfast and recommended that he work closely with the chaplains as an ordained pastor.

In 2012, Otis visited Brevard, staying at the campground at Patrick Space Force Base. He discovered Indian River Colony Club during the stay, headed straight there and purchased a home the same day. He is now a part-time chaplain at the “Place Patriots Call Home.”

Otis is one of those fortunate people who has no regrets.

“I’m very pleased with how it all worked out,” he said.