Recognized authority on Wesleyan spirituality, Christian formation speaking at FUMC's 11th Faith Alive Series

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

Mar. 23, 2007 - There are no scholarly theological celebrities, but if there were, the Rev. Tom Albin would certainly be deserving of consideration for the list.

Albin, a recognized authority in Wesleyan spirituality and Christian formation, is this year's featured speaker on Sunday and Monday at the 11th Annual Faith Alive Preaching Series at First United Methodist Church.

The series, established in honor of the late  Henry C. and Novie McGrede, begins with services at FUMC at 8:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Sunday, followed by a 7 p.m. service focusing on ways parents can nurture the spiritual life of young people at home, in small groups and in church.

Albin will also speak at noon Monday on "Transformation and Grace: Leadership in the Workplace," followed by a community luncheon. The two-day event concludes at 7 p.m. with Albin's presentation on "Transformational Groups: The Deep Work of Maturing Faith." This session, an extension of the noon presentation, will key in on the reason small groups in the Wesleyan revival were so effective.

The Rev. Albin has more than enough of a pedigree to delve into these topics. He's dean of The Upper Room, a highly respected arm of The United Methodist Church which encourages prayer, piety, and Bible reading. He's also a member of the UMC’s General Board of Discipleship and is in high demand as a lecturer, speaker and trainer at conferences across the South and Midwest.

And no wonder — this is a man who crammed a lifetime of study into a handful of years.

After receiving a bachelor's degree (with honors) from Oral Roberts University in 1973 and becoming an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church in 1977, he went on to earn a master's degree (with honors) in theological and historical studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., in 1978 before traveling to England and spending four years of doctoral study in Cambridge University. (He was recently awarded a grant from the Foundation for Evangelism to complete his doctoral degree at Cambridge.)

It was during those early years in London that the Rev. Albin played a pivotal role in enlightening the modern world about the early sermons of Charles Wesley, who along with brother John Wesley was among the most influential early leaders of the Methodist movement.

For some two centuries, the sermons of Charles Wesley, written in a long-forgotten style known as Byrom’s shorthand, sat uncatalogued in boxes in a London chapel. In 1977 the documents were transferred to a university library in Manchester, England, where one Richard Heitzenrater, known for his mastery of Bryom’s shorthand scheme, discovered hem. When the Rev. Albin and Oliver A. Beckerlegge found out, they began the tedious process of transcribing some of the sermons. Their “Charles Wesley’s Earliest Evangelical Sermons: Six Shorthand Manuscript Sermons Now for the First Time Transcribed from the Original” was published in 1987 by the Wesley Historical Society.

The Rev. Albin often addresses the need for spirituality to go beyond the limits of simple worship, a theme the Rev. Albin has long explored. In a 2002 essay, “Christian Formation and Mission in Early Methodism,” he wrote of how John and Charles Wesley understood that there was a social dimension to Christianity.

�Few spiritual leaders knew the cultural context for their ministry better than the Wesley brothers,� Albin wrote. �Their active work among the poor and the imprisoned, their regular meetings with the small-group leaders in each circuit, their practice of open-air itinerant preaching, regular services of prayer and Holy Communion in the homes of their hosts � all gave them intimate knowledge of the theological questions and human needs of their followers.�

Albin has also explored extensively the importance of the small-group structure, which has re-emerged as an important part of modern American church life but  were vital to the early success of the Methodist movement.

"The Methodist movement was all about creating a channel for people who had the desire and commitment to experience God and live the life of a disciple," the Rev. Albin said in a 2003 interview with "Christianity Today" magazine. "It presses us to ask ourselves, 'Where are the sincere seekers finding a welcome? Where are they finding a community? And where do they find someone to guide them in the spiritual life?"

His career has run the gamut from pastoral duties to education, recruitment, training and program development.

After his studies in England, the Rev. Albin returned to the pastoral ministry in Oklahoma as associate pastor of a church with more than 5,000 members from 1982 to 1985, when he was a leader in the areas of evangelism and discipleship, lay counseling and college ministries, as well as teaching in the Lay Academy. He also spent time recruiting, training and sustaining the ministry of lay counselors, visitors, evangelists and small group leaders, recruiting and training church school teachers and teaching in the adult Christian education program. He did all of that while writing adult and youth curriculum for the United Methodist Church.

He joined the faculty of Boston University School of Theology in 1987, teaching courses in American church history, Wesley studies, evangelism and church growth. The following year he returned to the heartland of America, developing a program in Christian spiritual reformation at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. He also served as director of the seminary's Contextual Education program from 1992-1999.

He has also had many written works published.

The Rev. Albin and his wife, Maryle, have three married children, Rebekah, 30; April, 26; and Heather, 24. The Albins became grandparents for the first time in March of 2006.

The preaching series is held in honor of Henry C. and Novie McGrede, who were born in Longview in 1891 and 1892, respectively, became childhood sweethearts and married in 1912. The couple became active in First United Methodist Church in Longview, where Mr. McGrede served as superintendent of the Sunday School.

They came to Sulphur Springs in 1926, entered the Coca-Cola business and joined First United Methodist Church, where both were active in church affairs.

Henry McGrede served as chair of the church board and in numerous other capacities through the years, including president of the Bishop Ward class when a goal of "100 men in attendance for 100 Sundays" was established. He was also a member of the board of directors of  Methodist Hospital in Dallas for 19 years. Novie McGrede was active in the Woman's Society and Sunday School programs.

Henry McGrede died in 1978, and Novie McGrede in 1989. 

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