When I wrote last I mentioned an event that was coming up at which a friend was going to present his most recent book, which he dedicated to Al (More details in the entry below this one, if you’re interested). That presentation took place last night, and it was WONDERFUL!
Several of us went downtown to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary for the presentation, and it was such a blessing. First of all, the campus itself is fabulous. Those of us who had never been there were quite bowled over by its magnificence. Walking the (very long) corridors toward the library we felt the sense of grandeur and awe. It was also fascinating to step into a different seminary world for a few hours, to be surrounded by some of the priests and teachers who serve there and the young men who are studying to become Catholic priests, all in black clerical robes. Dennis (or more formally “Father Billy”) was introduced (I didn’t realize he had so many degrees that if they were all listed there would probably be as many letters after his name as in it!) and then spoke about the series of books he has written (the Classics with Commentary Series) and about each of the four volumes in it so far, explaining a bit about the individual character of the historical works, about his commentaries on them and about the aim of the series as a whole. I loved seeing Dennis in his new position as scholar in residence, where he seems to be warmly welcomed and appreciated. Al would have been so delighted to see Dennis happily serving a new flock and would have loved having him here in Philadelphia.
When Dennis finished talking about the most recent book in the series he gave the following moving tribute to Al:
At this point, I would like to say a few words about Al Groves, the person to whom I have dedicated my commentary on Spiritual Friendship. I would first like to read the brief biographical note about his life that appears on one of the book’s final pages. It reads:
“J. Alan Groves (1952-2007) was Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and founder of the Westminster Hebrew Institute (recently renamed the J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research). He was internationally known for his work in the application of computer technology to the study and teaching of the Hebrew Bible and language. In addition to being an eminent scholar, teacher, pastor, and administrator, he also had a profound love for God, family, and friends. His wife Libbie and his children—Alasdair, Rebeckah, Eowyn, and Alden—can easily attest to that, as can the many friends he made while a student at Dartmouth College (1971-1976), a pastor of the Congregational Church in West Fairlee, Vermont (1976-1979), and a student and later Professor and Academic Dean at Westminster (1979-2007). Al was a friend of Christ and extended that friendship to others. Everything he did flowed from his love of God and desire to share that love with others.”
I consider it an honor to have known Al and to have called him a good friend in Christ. I went to college with Al. We ran X-Country and track together at Dartmouth College. We were both members of The Dartmouth Christian Fellowship and were leaders of a youth group known as “Crusaders” run out of The Dartmouth Christian Union.
I decided to dedicate this book to him because he was probably the person in my life most responsible for helping me view my relationship with Christ in terms of friendship. Without his influence in my life, I probably never would have chosen a life of ministry in the Church. We came from different faith traditions, but respected each other for the choices we made, looked beyond the differences that separated us, and found a common bond of friendship that centered around our deep love for the Lord.
The dedication and this book presentation are my way of thanking Al publicly for his profound influence on my life and for teaching me something about the meaning of “friendship in Christ.”
The dedication reads:In memory of
My good friend in Christ
J. Alan Groves (1952-2007)
A man of the Word,
A man of God,
A man of many friends
Al died on February 5, 2007 after a long battle with malignant melanoma, which spread from his lungs to his brain and then to various other parts of his body. He left behind a wife, two sons, two daughters and many close friends in Christ. I count myself blessed to be counted one of them.
Al, I believe you can hear me from the other side, where you celebrate life beyond the pale of death with your Lord, your closest friend and the true love of your life. I wish to thank you for showing me the riches of friendship with Christ. This book is a small sign of gratitude on my part for showing me the one thing that really matters in life. Thanks, Al, for pointing out this pearl of great price. I am grateful and am forever in your debt.
I don’t know about others, but Becky and I certainly didn’t have dry eyes at that point. Dennis himself managed to keep his emotions under control and his voice steady, but he admitted to the crowd that it was a struggle.
Dennis’s way of honoring Al, as he it tied in with Aelred’s teaching about the kind of friendship that Al and Dennis shared—one that encouraged them both in Christ—was so perfect. I can’t think of a better tribute, and I know Al would have been smiling from ear to ear if he had been sitting there in the seats with us. Of course he would have explained that the blessing of their friendship was not about him but was all about God’s gracious work in both of their lives. But he also would have been enormously and deeply touched, right down to the bottom of his big heart.
What an evening. I wish I could describe it better for you. I think there was something intangible about it that made it greater than the sum of its parts, but how to put that into words, even in my own mind, escapes me at this moment.
Anyway, just wanted to let you know what a wonderful, wonderful time it was last night.