In the mid 1970s The Fountain Trust came to St Stephen's, Selly Park to lead a weekend. At the time this organisation was the vehicle mainly for the teaching of Tom Smail. His book Reflected Glory arose out of such. It was an attempt to put a theology and understanding of the Holy Spirit back on the agenda of a church which had lost it. It was a good weekend. One moment I recall clearly is that one of the speakers asked Tom for a brief input half-way through his session and Tom took over. 'You can sit down now' he said to the original speaker after realising he wasn't going to give the platform back up. It was taken in good spirit. Here was a team working but it was one person's work they were doing.
First lesson from Tom. It's OK for the person in charge to be in charge.
A few years later Tom left Fountain Trust which was closed down. It was set up to do a particular work and when that work was done it was stopped. He joined the staff of St John's College, Nottingham, a theological college training people for ordination, and wrote another book, The Forgotten Father. He taught Christian Doctrine
Second lesson from Tom. When you have done what you set out to do, stop.
Third lesson from Tom. If you see your mission as restoring balance you will be constantly emphasising different things.
In 1981 I went to St John's to train. Some of the lectures were hard. Some were dull. Some felt pointless. Two hours a week with Tom for the first two years, the first on Mondays at 9.10 a.m. I recall, were redemptive. He built our doctrine up from scratch, not ignoring the difficulties those of us from a conservative background would have with more liberal theologians, gently helping us through. I loved his lectures and still re-read my notes from time to time. Seminars were harder. He was smart and a good debater. Those of us who were young and timid found it hard to contribute. He liked the cut and thrust with the more academic students and was not so good at encouraging along the slow stream. But I came top of my year group at doctrine in 1983 and got a comment on an essay from him that began 'I liked this essay a lot.' It still only got 58%. But he had enjoyed reading it. Another helpful piece in the jigsaw that eventually convinced me I could write. (He had told us Barth wouldn't get 70%.)
Fourth lesson. Theology isn't beamed down. It needs building.
Fifth lesson. It doesn't matter how gifted the student; if you tell them you like their work it helps.
Tom went back to parish ministry for a few years before retiring. His congregations would have been well taught.
So thanks Tom. We haven't kept in touch but I am one of your students who is glad to have been in your presence those few short years. RIP