Founding Faculty Freundt Retires
Dr. Albert Freundt can remember when cows grazed on the grounds of Reformed Seminary and when the only building on campus was the White House, an old white frame farmhouse. That was some thirty years ago - well before RTS/Orlando and RIS/Charlotte had ever been dreamed of.
In August, this well-loved Professor of Church History will retire after more than thirty years of service to RTS, and an era will come to an end. Holding the longest tenure at RTS (thirty-two years), Al is the sole founding faculty member still active. In fact, he was in residence at RTS a year before its doors officially opened in the fall of 1966, spending his first two years at the school establishing its library.
"It was a small, but exciting beginning," Al remembers, with his customary smile and twinkle in his eyes. "By the fall of 1966 we had five professors and twelve students. We had agreed that if five students enrolled, the seminary was worth starting, but God gave us more than we expected. Those early years were matchless because we were so small. The warmth and communication between faculty and students were magnificent, as was the camaraderie between faculty and board members, due largely to the influence of then-President Sam Patterson.
"Board members told us that we risked our careers by coming to RTS since it wasn't a denominational seminary," he recalls. "But we came anyway.
AN EXTRAORDINARY TEACHER
"I really think of myself as an ordinary teacher," says the man who was the youngest professor at the seminary at one time. Al Freundt, who is really not so ordinary, passionately wants his students to come to love the Christian church.
"They tend to think of the Church in terms of the here and now," he says. "But I want them to think of the Church as continuous through time, as well as through space. The Christian heritage goes way back. I like for them to realize that the Spirit of God is at work in other denominations and traditions as well as our own. This prevents the provincialism to which we are all prone."
"I remember sitting in Dr. Freundt's classroom with students from several denominations," remembers Wes Baker (RTS '96), a former student who now pastors the Lebanon Presbyterian Church at Learned, Mississippi. "Each of us was required to present his viewpoint on a certain issue. Dr. Freundt worked to hold the conversation together, encouraging us to listen to each other rather than argue points along denominational lines."
Freundt's voice of unity among the diversity of beliefs and denominations at the seminary has certainly been one of the distinctive aspects of his work and ministry. Perhaps the best example of that theme was a sermon preached in Grace Chapel at RTS on May 2, 1975, when he became Chairman of the Department of Historical Theology; His message, entitled Who Is My Adversary?, was so compelling and timely that the seminary printed it in pamphlet form for wide distribution. It remains an important position of RTS.
Freundt recalls, "It was a temporal message preached to show that fellow Christians are not our enemies. We share a lot in common with others."
The following excerpt from that message reveals his emphasis:
One measure of Freundt's success as a professor is the number of students who spend time outside the classroom in his office, seeking to learn from his wisdom. He also enjoys having former students call or stop by - and they often do - for counsel or guidance. Wes Baker periodically stops by Al's office and, besides getting some good counsel, he'll be shown a rare copy of an old book by a Southern Presbyterian that no one else has.
"As one of the founding fathers of RTS, Al has served in many capacities and was a stabilizing force in forming the seminary and seeing it through its younger days of growth," says Dr. Paul Long, a good friend and long-time Professor of Missions at RTS. "His legacy is in the lives of the hundreds of students who have studied under him throughout his years at the seminary. Many graduates continue to visit his office long after graduation for guidance and encouragement."
Many people have high regard for Al's stature as a historian. Long and others feel that he is best known for his grasp of the global scope of church history and Presbyterian polity. Colleague and friend Dr. Knox Chamblin, Professor of New Testament at RTS/Jackson, remarks, "He has a marvelous grasp of the ingredients of church history; and he has long and wisely reflected upon them and their meaning for today. He is very gifted at illuminating the present with light from the past. The best classes I have ever had in church history are those times around the lunch table when Al Freundt - between bites of German sausage or one of Alene's pickles - recalls some distant ecclesiastical event or muses upon a southern Presbyterian worthy or puts some contemporary issue into historical perspective.
Aside from his expertise in church history students appreciate Al for his sense of humor. Wes Baker recalls taking one of his classes about three years ago with a student he classified as "a rebel." The young man consistently wore a bandanna and an earring and always brought a two-liter bottle of Coke to class. On the last day of class, Al walked in wearing a bandanna and clip-on earring and carrying a two-liter bottle of Coke. The whole class, including the "rebel," roared with laughter. "I can't think of anyone I love more dearly," Wes says. "Dr Freundt is truly one of the bright spots of the seminary."
PREACHER, TEACHER, CHURCH STATESMAN
Al grew up in Savannah, Georgia, where his dad, an electrician by trade, served as an elder in the church. The oldest of five children, Al remembers, "We were nurtured in the faith at home and at church." In fact, Al does not recall a time in his life when he didn't know Christ as Savior. He felt God calling him to the ministry at age nine and professed his faith in Christ at age eleven. In high school he asked for and received copies of The Westminster Confession of Faith and Calvins Institutes, works which he has spent his adult life preaching and teaching on.
After receiving his bachelor of arts degree in English from King College in Bristol, Tennessee, he went to Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, where he obtained a Master of Divinity degree in 1956. A year before he graduated, he married Alene Doss, whom he had met at King College.
During the first two years after seminary; he taught Bible at Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi, and pastored Forest Presbyterian Church in Forest, Mississippi, about forty-five miles east of Jackson. The tug-of-war between the two jobs was enormous. After two years, Belhaven asked him to teach full-time, but the congregation wouldn't let him go. Although somewhat disappointed in their decision, he spent seven more happy years in Forest as their pastor
Although he left the Forest pulpit in 1965 to begin his long career at RTS, he didn't fully quit the pastorate. He was the interim supply pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Brandon, Mississippi, from 1965-1969 and has preached regularly at First Presbyterian Church in Durant, Mississippi, since 1975.
"A polished and persuasive pulpiteer he figures he's preached in at least one third of the Presbyterian churches in Mississippi at one time or another," the Mid-South Presbyterian reported in August 1982. Al's latest count places him as a guest preacher in the pulpits of 110 Presbyterian churches throughout the years in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.
In addition to his lustrous career in teaching and preaching, Al is known for his involvement in church government and as a peacemaker between denominations.
"He loves the church because he loves Christ," explains Knox Chamblin. "And he relishes church polity. He has long served with distinction as stated clerk of our PCUSA presbytery. On many an occasion his facility in polity has dispelled our contusion and directed us onto the right path."
His involvement in church government has been long and meaningful. He has served as Stated Clerk of his presbytery since 1968 and as Stated Clerk of his synod nom 1967 to 1987 and from 1993 to the present. He has also served on numerous committees, council, and boards of the church at all levels, including the General Assembly Council.
Like all RTS professors, Dr. Freundt is well-published with over 200 articles in print and several forthcoming. Some of those will appear in Makers of Christian Theology in America, the Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, Australian Presbyterian Life Today, and the prestigious Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart.
That "bright spot" at the seminary will continue to influence many though he is retiring from teaching full-time. Al will continue to have an office at RTS for research and writing - perhaps even to write a history of the seminary. Of course, this office will have an open door for any students or former students who come calling. He plans to keep preaching on Sundays at First Presbyterian in Durant, and he'll continue his work in the presbytery and in the synod.
He only hopes to have more time to do some of the things hes always wanted to do like research and write family history, spend more time with his four grandchildren, read western novels (hes already read more than 110 of Louis LAmour's books) and listen to music (jazz, classical and genuine Appalachian folk music are his favorites).
Perhaps travel will fit into Al retirement plans. too. He and Alene love to travel and have visited England, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Mexico, and Puerto Rico and have led tours to Germany and Israel.
As RTS looks ahead to its next era of development, Freundt's words of vision from the closing prayer of Who Is My Adversary? are still timely:
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 2