MOBILE, Ala. – A 400-year-old King James Bible has a new home at the University of Mobile, thanks to the generosity of 1975 alumnus Dr. Leslie Holmes and his wife, Barbara.
The 1627 Bible was on display during a reception Sept. 26 at Lyon Chapel where Holmes shared the story of its journey from “bits of a Bible in a box” filled with loose pages through a restoration process that spanned Ireland, Scotland and England.
Holmes also spoke of the couple’s own journey from northern Ireland to the United States, and from self-described “non-committed Christians” to serving over 50 years in Christian ministry.
The University of Mobile played a central role in their journey.
University of Mobile President Lonnie Burnett thanked the couple for the gift, which is now the oldest Bible in the university’s collection. It will be on display in the Center for Christian Calling in the School of Christian Studies at the Baptist-affiliated university.
“Imagine somebody in the 1600s with this very Bible in their hands, reading it,” Burnett said. “When you think about it, if that were a science book that was 400 years old, what a person read that day would be true – but it would not be true today, because we have found out more things. But what a person read (in this Bible) on that day is still true today.”
Holmes said the gift is a way to say “thank you” to the university as well.
“I said to Barbara, I want to give this to the University of Mobile. They took me in when nobody else wanted me. And I want to give it in honor of Col. Ira Matthews.”
Preach the Gospel
When Holmes was applying to Mobile College – after being turned away from three other universities because his Belfast educational credentials weren’t recognized by U.S. colleges – his Belfast accent sparked an encounter with Matthews, who was then assistant to the Mobile College president.
The retired war hero had flown out of Belfast over Germany during World War II with the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 40thBombardment Group. A conversation about Belfast, and a longer conversation about Holmes’ desire to preach the gospel – coupled with Matthews’ belief that the university “could not turn away a man God has called to preach” – paved the way for Holmes to enroll on academic probation. He thrived, graduated in 1975, then pursued graduate training in theology and psychology.
For over 40 years, Holmes was a solo or principal pastor, leading congregations from 30 to 4,300 members in Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, California, Pennsylvania and South Caroline. Later, he served as provost/CEO and professor of preaching and pastoral theology at Erskine Theological Seminary and moderator of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Former U.S. Senate Chaplain Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie called Holmes “One of America’s foremost scholar-pastors.” He has been invited to speak, teach and present at preaching and leadership conferences as well as on university campuses and at churches on six continents. Having been published on both sides of the Atlantic, he is the author or contributing editor of 20 books and hundreds of articles and has offered the opening prayer for a session of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. His latest book is “Leading the Way: Principles of Leadership Excellence for All Believers.”
A Salvation Story
In another connection to the university, Holmes shared his salvation story, his call to ministry, and his wife’s initial reluctance to “be a preacher’s wife.” Then the young couple went to a concert in Mississippi, heard the gospel, and Barbara committed her own life to Christ.
The concert featured one of the very first contemporary Christian groups – TRUTH. The person sharing that message was TRUTH’s founder, Dr. Roger Breland, who now serves as executive director of UM’s Roger Breland Center for Performing Arts. At the reception, Breland learned for the first time of the role he played in Barbara’s life-changing commitment to Jesus Christ.
See What God Has Done
Holmes said he has kept up with his alma mater through the years.
“Over the years, I have watched the school grow, grow, grow. It’s a real privilege to stand here as an alum and see what God has done,” he said.
“I am honored and delighted and thrilled that Barbara and I can give this to the school and say ‘Thank you,’” he added. “Because if you hadn’t taken us in, our lives would have been a whole shape different than what they have been.”
About the University of Mobile
The University of Mobile is a Christ-centered university with a vision of “Higher Education for a Higher Purpose,” founded to honor God by equipping students for their future professions in an environment where they are known. Located 10 miles north of Mobile, Alabama, on a campus of over 880 acres, the university offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in over 75 academic programs.The University of Mobile was founded in 1961 and is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention.
For information about the University of Mobile, areas of study, admissions and more, visit umobile.edu, connect with UM on social media @univofmobile, or call Enrollment Services at 1.800.WIN.RAMS or 251.442.2222.