Dean Urban Holmes, 51, Episcopal Theologian, Dies

Episcopal News Service. August 20, 1981 [81221]

ATLANTA -- The Very Rev. Urban Tigner Holmes, III, dean of the School of Theology of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tenn., died here Aug. 6 after suffering a stroke in late July. He was 51.

At the time of his death, Holmes had been dean of the Episcopal Church seminary since 1973. His special interest was in the role of theology in society and he was the author of many books and articles exploring such diverse areas as human sexuality and the changing role of ministry.

In his career, Holmes moved easily from studies of the earliest theologians of Christianity through an effort to relate theological study to contemporary life. Much of his ministry was carried out with young people; serving as chaplain to Catawba College in North Carolina and Louisiana State University before accepting a position as professor of pastoral theology at the Church's Nashotah House seminary.

At the time of his death, he was also a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and of the Standing Commission on Health and Human Affairs of the Church's General Convention.

As a moderate and a scholar, convinced that the Church's history and worldwide involvement (through the Anglican Communion) gave it a particular role in shaping contemporary thought, he was much in demand on controversial issues. He was co-editor of To Be A Priest and Male and Female, two books that became standard references as the Church debated ordination of women and the role of human sexuality.

However, his work went beyond these fields. His 1971 book, The Future Shape of Ministry -- and the 1976 Ministry and Imagination -- gave impetus to a series of Convention studies and reports on recruiting, training and developing expanding ministries to meet new needs, and he was co-author of Christian Believing, a thoughtful exploration of the role of faith that was the first volume of the Episcopal Church's 1979 "New Teaching Series."

Dr. Fredrica Thompsett, who as director of the Church's Board for Theological Education worked closely with Holmes, said of him: "I don't know of anyone who did more work in shaping the contemporary theological framework for the Church's ministry. In many circles, as conference leader, in the Church's Council of Seminary Deans, and in ecumenical settings he was a passionate and energetic voice for this role."

"He was a man of unquenchable thirst for knowledge and had a compelling desire to share his understanding of God and man through his writing, preaching, and lecturing," said Robert M. Ayres, vice-chancellor of the University of the South. "His contribution to theological education and contemporary Christian thought extended far beyond his own denomination."

Holmes served a number of Church commissions including: The Anglican Consultative Council, the Standing Liturgical Commission, and the Anglican Theological Review. In addition to his books, he was author of a number of articles.

A native of Chapel Hill, N.C., he earned degrees from the University of North Carolina and the Philadelphia Divinity School before being ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1954. He was awarded the Ph.D. degree from Marquette University in 1973.

In 1951 Holmes married Jane Wiley Neighbours and they have four children: Jane Teresa, David Thomas, Janet Reid and Allan Tigner.

A memorial service was held at 4 p.m. Aug. 10 at the seminary chapel, followed by a funeral service and interment in Chapel Hill on Aug. 12. Memorial gifts may be made to the Library Fund at the University of the South.

In a related development a week later, Ayres announced that the Rt. Rev. Girault Jones, retired Bishop of Louisiana, has been named interim dean of the seminary. Jones is a former chancellor of the University. An advisory committee of seminary administrators and faculty members will work with the interim dean.

[thumbnail: The Very Rev. Urban Tigne...]