Read. Talk. Pray. Gossip.

Dwight A. Moody

 

Twenty-seven years ago, I was invited to join a small group of pastor-theologians for two days of talk, prayer, and (as it turned out) gossip. We ate a lot of food, as well.

 

We gathered in Birmingham that first time and most of the times since; twice or three times a year, year in and year out: a peer group of like-minded colleagues, all with PhD degrees in theology and all engaged in some form of Christian ministry.

 

Most of them were strangers to me when we convened that first time, and even the one I knew (Paul Basden, then of Birmingham, now of Dallas) I had just met months earlier when he came to Pittsburgh for a meeting. We walked along Mt. Washington, high above the Monongahela River, and talked about God, life, and theology. And at the end, he invited me to join the nascent group.

 

Fisher Humphreys was and is the stack pole around which we swing, if I can use that image (although none of us, to my knowledge, is a swinger; and how would I know if any of them are? Humphreys was, at the time, professor of theology at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham; he is now retired, as have two others: LaMon Brown, from his career as a professor of theology overseas, and me (although I don’t use that word to describe what I do or don’t do!)

 

We lost a member through death. Philip Wise. He died on my birthday, March 30, and we all went to his memorial service.  He was exactly my age, the creative, energetic presence at all of our meetings. I miss him terribly. We all miss him. We dedicated to him our first book, For Faith and Friendship (2010).

 

Brad Creed joined the group while he was provost at Samford University, but he is now so busy being the president of Campbell University in North Carolina it is hard for him to make our meetings. We plan to meet on his campus next Spring. Before that, Rick Wilson joined the group, but he also is busy as chair of the department of Christianity at Mercer University, and he has health problems. We don’t see him much, but we think about him and pray for him.

 

The one we never see is Ted Mashburn. Some of us contend he is a figment of somebody’s imagination. He teaches, they say, at the University of Mobile, which isn’t too far from Birmingham. But we keep him on the distribution list, and that makes him official, I suppose. Same for Gerald Wright, a former missionary now teaching down in West Palm Beach. I keep proposing that we have a gathering or two down there; it is nice territory.

 

We were not very scattered at the beginning: Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia, and by the time we first met, I was in Kentucky—southern boys, all of us, and Baptist. That hardly constitutes geographic or theological diversity! Twenty-seven years later, we have added Florida, North Carolina and Texas to our list of states. Paul Basden moved to Texas to start of church—it’s going strong—and Paul Robertson moved from New Orleans to Houston to re-launch his ministerial career in the chaplaincy business. He got fired from his job at the Baptist Seminary in New Orleans when the fundamentalists took over.

 

None of us is a fundamentalist, but I suspect in the big scheme of things we all tend toward the conservative side of Christianity. I do, at least, but not nearly as far in that direction as I once was; and some people today call me an out-and-out liberal. I like that word and even use it frequently to describe myself. It speaks to me of openness, curiosity, appreciation of others, and the embrace of new ideas and fresh facts. But even we liberals love God, follow Jesus, and read the Bible. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

 

Through terminations, retirements, treatments, and other sorts of transitions we have hung together, meeting year by year to talk, eat, laugh, pray, and gossip. Along the way we have published two books and written scores, even hundreds, of reviews, articles, letters, and sermons to share with each other.

 

We call ourselves the Trinity Group because, I am led to believe, the doctrine of the Trinity has been the focal point of the illustrious career of Fisher Humphreys. He’s giving three lectures this week in Birmingham, the very week we are scheduled to convene, on The Purposes of God. We will attend them and later discuss what he has to say. But I can say this now, I am grateful that one of the purposes of God in my life was including me in this wonderful little group of men: men who love God and love me, men who love theology and love learning, men who love to talk, eat, pray, and yes gossip.

 

Thanks be to God.