March 26th, 2011
And then there were two . . .
Trevecca Nazarene University has been blessed with exemplary presidents across its 110-year history. When I was elected, there were four living former presidents: Dr. William Greathouse, Dr. Mark Moore, Dr. Homer Adams, and Dr. Millard Reed. During my second year in office, Dr. Moore, my college president, died. Yesterday, Dr. William Greathouse died. Oddly, on the same day, Trevecca re-dedicated the Adams Administration Building and celebrated the life of Dr. Homer Adams. And Dr. Reed was moved from ICU to a regular hospital room following his recovery from surgery.
I am reminded how fragile life is—and how people carry inside themselves the history of places we love.
I’ve been reflecting on the life of William Greathouse and invite you to use this blog site as a collector for the stories you have. Feel free to add your stories in the comment box.
Dr. Greathouse was president of Nazarene Theological Seminary during my years as a student there. His rich, booming voice filled the chapel during community worship. I learned to lead congregational singing from him—not the arm-waving role but the role of the pastor as worshipper. Dr. G would rear his head back and sing the hymns from memory with great joy and expression. I’ve never seen a more authentic heart-head worship than he rendered to God in that small holy chapel.
I was privileged to serve as his teaching assistant/reader in the classes he taught on Wesley and Romans. The classes were so large that they were held in the chapel—and seemed like a worship experience. When we use the language of sitting at someone’s feet, I am taken to that room and sit again under Dr. G’s teaching. I credit his theological mentoring with changing my understanding about Nazarenes. I learned from him that we are not the small church on the wrong side of the tracks with a questionable theological pedigree, but, rather, we are the people of God standing the rich stream of the early church Fathers and the traditions of the Wesley brothers and Methodism. He gave me confidence in a Wesleyan interpretation of the Bible. Dr. G is inside my brain, and I couldn’t erase him if I tried. Nor would I want to.
When we graded papers, we would sit shoeless and sock-footed on his office floor and read the work of students. He would always want to know whether a student faring poorly in class was under any difficult situations—work schedule, finances, etc. While he demanded good thought, he cared about the students. In the spring before he was elected general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, he made the comment one day that he was concerned about what might happen in Dallas that summer, site of the General Assembly where he was elected. I believe in the wisdom of the collective conscience of the church, but I still wish he had not been elected general superintendent. His footprint on generations of Nazarene leaders who passed through the Seminary was profound and would have been much larger had he been president during the remaining years of his life. He cast a large, protective umbrella for the professors of the Seminary, allowing them to do critical thinking in an atmosphere of trust. My model for what a Christian university should be is learned from him. The church has serious issues to address, and its universities and seminaries are the places most suited to plowing the ground.
I think I’ve read everything he has written. It is scholarly and pastoral. His preaching was more of a collection of Wesley quotes and Romans recitations than anything humanly concocted. In his dying days he was quoting large segments from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In the fantastic language we use about heaven, I’m sure he made a beeline to Paul to discuss Romans.
Dr. Greathouse is my role model for lifelong learning. He had books in his brain that he never got on paper. His last commentary on Romans is a lasting gift. I shared with him a new resource on Romans, and he devoured it with comments within a week. The sin of so many pastors is to die from the brain down to the heart. Not so with Dr. G.
When elected president of Trevecca, I called two people to discuss whether this role could be done in this culture by someone with a distinct theological bent. I loved being a pastor and had never woken a morning in my life desiring to be a college president. Didn’t the college need a fund raiser and PR person and glad-handing sort of chap who could be the cheerleader of the university? “Nonsense,” he told me. “If they had wanted that, they would have found someone besides you. They are looking for trustworthy theological leadership that is not afraid of higher education.” So I said yes, because he sounded so much like the voice of God to me.
I owe this man so much. I love him dearly. I miss him already. He makes me want to be a better man.