Thomas Hoyt, Jr., Senior Bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, died on October 27 at age 72. From 1977 to 2001 he served on the board of directors of the Collegeville Institute, and was subsequently elected an honorary life member. In 1984 he lived at the Institute as a participant in the Resident Scholars Program.
I first met Thomas in the mid-1970s, when he participated in the Institute’s inaugural summer consultation program, “Confessing Faith in God Today,” a sustained conversation that over a six-year period involved 34 persons and resulted in the book God on Our Minds (1982). He was already on the Board when I became executive director in 1984, and thus was one of my bosses. We worked together on many other projects, most notably the consultation that produced Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation (1991), a book that changed the field of biblical studies.
Two memories in particular—one of something I heard him talk about, the other of something I actually saw—stake out the territory of God’s world that was Thomas’ home.
He loved to tell a story I heard several times, and that is published in the introduction to Stony the Road We Trod:
My father was a pastor for forty years. When I was growing up, sometimes he and I would be the only ones at the weekly prayer meetings. He would ask me to sing a song and pray, and then he would do the same. “Didn’t we have a glorious time!” he would say on the way home. Sometimes I did not want to be there. But we did have a glorious time.
The young Thomas learned early on the bracing truth of Jesus’ declaration that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And there weren’t even three—just two, but that was enough. The older Thomas was teaching his son that a glorious time doesn’t require multitudes; song and prayer are sufficient—and it’s okay now and then not even to want to be there.
I believe what Thomas learned in those prayer meetings was essential preparation for my other territory-defining memory.
On November 6, 2003 I was privileged to represent the Institute at Thomas’ inauguration as president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA for a two-year term, 2004-05. He said on that occasion that he welcomed the opportunity to reach out for justice and reconciliation through the work of the National Council, whose 36 Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox member communions comprise some 140,000 congregations and 50 million congregants.
The service on that day at Anderson United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, was, to be sure, a glorious time—a congregation of several hundred, celebratory speeches by gifted preachers, eloquent prayers, and music with energy and beat. But I suspect that Thomas would say that this time, launching him into responsibility for 50 million Christians, was no more glorious than those times when it was just two Thomas Hoyts, Sr. and Jr., singing and praying.
Executive Director of the Collegeville Institute from 1984-2004