This Thursday, March 21, LeTourneau University’s Abbott Aviation Center in east Texas is dedicating a Reflection Room to my friend Bob Parrott, a distinguished United Methodist pastor, church reformer, and biographer of renowned theologian Albert Outler. During the height of the space program and lunar landings Bob was known as “minister to astronauts” thanks to his pastorate outside Houston near the NASA Mission Control Campus. Several of the best known moon explorers attended Seabrook Methodist Church, and Bob even knew Werner von Braun, the German expatriate who helped to father U.S. space exploration. The Reflection Room will exhibit Bob’s space paraphernalia from those days.
Bob served for a decade on IRD’s UMAction steering committee, which was especially appropriate, because he had attended an original 1981 meeting of United Methodist leaders that led to IRD’s creation later that year, at the invitation of IRD co-founder Ed Robb. The idea for that meeting came from Bob’s friend, Albert Outler. Bob as a delegate to the 1980 General Conference had also urged greater accountability by radical church agencies then extolling Marxist revolution under the aegis of Liberation Theology.
In his early days as an underpaid youthful preacher, Bob supported himself as a metal sheet worker. He later got seminary and advanced degrees, becoming a student under and lifelong friend to Albert Outler of Perkins Seminary at Southern Methodist University, one of Methodism’s most famed thinkers of the twentieth century. At their first meeting, Bob had just experienced a transformatively intense spiritual awakening during which he encountered God, the devil, and eternity. Outler sagely referred the young man to great church fathers like St. Augustine who had had similar visions, to the benefit of Christianity. Bob was ushered into the world of philosophy and classic theology. In a testament to their friendship, Outler bequeathed his papers to Bob, who edited them for publication and who became Outler’s devoted biographer.
While working on that biography, Bob and his wife Doris, who’s also a wonderful friend, toured the sites of Outler’s life in a 36 foot long motor home. During their visits to D.C. for UMAction meetings, they enjoyably parked that giant vehicle, which they had launched from their east Texas home, in my Northern Virginia driveway, to the astonishment of my neighbors. It nearly dwarfed my two story house, against which it pointed like the type of missile familiar to Werner von Braun. A giant parrot was dramatically emblazoned on the outside, removing any doubt about the large personalities of the owners. The Parrotts served me dinner in their motor home along with lots of good conversation and encouragement.
Bob recalls his event filled life in his 2010 memoir, Bobby Tells Our Story: Journey Through Space and Time with My Creator, which I recommend to you. Bob’s story of independent, faithful ministry helps explain how biblical beliefs survived in our church incredibly for decades when liberals occupied all the commanding heights of ecclesiastic power. In a testament to his God-given fortitude, Bob travelled seamlessly across decades from small town boy preacher to become a force in his own right who operated confidently among bishops, wealthy personages, and celebrities, which included not just astronauts but entertainers like Bob Hope.
Neither IRD nor the United Methodist Church could have survived without leaders and preachers of bold faith and confident vision like Bob, and his indispensable partner of over 60 years, Doris. I miss their visits to D.C., and their high profile residence in my driveway. But I am glad they are being honored this week for just one small part of an incredible 60 year ministry. Thank you, Bob and Doris, for your superb friendship and generosity.