Word, Inc., of Waco, Texas, funded the first meeting of a writer’s group to which Richard J. Foster, Karen Burton Mains, and Calvin Miller invited published writers whose works demonstrated a moral vision coupled with precise expression. Sponsored by The Milton Center of Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, twelve writers attended the October 1986 gathering held at Christ Haven Retreat Center west of Colorado Springs, Colorado: Harold Fickett, Foster, Emilie and William Griffin, Madeleine L’Engle, Stephen Lawhead, Mains, Miller, Luci Shaw, Robert Siegel, Walter Wangerin, Jr., and Philip Yancey. Two Word representatives—Charles “Kip” Jordan and Beverly Phillips—two spouses—Thanne Wangerin and Kathy Jordan—and Foster’s assistant—Lynda Graybeal brought the total attendance to seventeen.
By intentionally bringing together writers from diverse backgrounds whose works reflected great variety within the Christian community, the three organizers hoped the meeting would help establish long-term relationships between participants. The intent was that these relationships would, in turn, help each person write quality literature which contained a positive, moral vision. At the end of the two-day, weekend gathering, the group decided to meet again in late winter or early spring of 1988.
The Blaffer Foundation of Houston, Texas, and Word, Inc., sponsored the next meeting in New Harmony, Indiana, on 28 February-1 March 1988 to which six more writers and their spouses were invited: John Leax and Linda, J. Keith Miller and Andrea, Shirley Nelson and Rudy, Virginia Stem Owens and David, Eugene Peterson and Jan, and Greg Wolfe and Suzanne. Three spouses of new members—Andrea Miller, Rudy Nelson, and Suzanne Wolfe—were also published writers along with Alice Slaikeu Lawhead and David Mains, spouses of founding group members. Known unofficially as “The Group,” at New Harmony the members decided that, if they were going to meet annually, the gathering needed a name, hence, “The Chrysostom Society” for St. John Chrysostom (Greek for ”golden-tongued”), a late fourth- and early fifth-century Church leader known for his erudite sermons and writing.
Thereafter held annually the last weekend in February, The Chrysostom Society has met at Glencoe and Asphodel plantations near Baton Rouge, Louisiana—25-29 February 1989; Laity Lodge near Kerrville, Texas—24-27 February 1990; The Resort in Sudden Valley in Bellingham, Washington—22-26 February 1991; New Harmony, Indiana—21-25 February 1992; The Spiritual Life Center of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Wichita, Kansas—26 February-2 March 1993; In The Oaks near Black Mountain, North Carolina—25 February-1 March 1994; Glen Eyrie Conference Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado—24-28 February 1995, 23-27 February 1996, and 21-25 February 1997; The Community of Jesus, Orleans, Massachusetts—20-24 February 1998, and Camp Allen near Navasota, Texas—26 February-March 2 1999.
Membership of approximately twenty persons plus spouses has remained constant since The Society’s second meeting. Three members and spouses—Karen Burton Mains and David and Calvin Miller and Barbara, along with individual members Emilie Griffin and William Griffin—have resigned. Steve Lawhead and Alice requested and were given inactive membership status since they moved from Lincoln, Nebraska, to England and could not attend the annual meetings. Larry Woiwode and Carol accepted an invitation to become members in 1989; Ron Hansen, Paul Mariani and Eileen, James Calvin Schaap and Barbara, and Jeanne Murray Walker and Dan Larkin became members in 1996. In 1998 Ron Hansen and Paul Mariani and Eileen resigned, Emilie and William Griffin were issued an invitation to rejoin the group which they accepted, and Larry Woiwode was dropped from the membership list. Two members—-Luci Shaw and Harold Fickett—have married; Luci to John Hoyte and Harold to Karen.
As a way to fund their activities, members of The Chrysostom Society have written several collaborative works: Carnage at Christ Haven (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), Reality & The Vision edited by Philip Yancey (Waco, TX: Word, 1990), Stories of the Christian Year edited by Eugene Peterson (New York: Macmillan, 1992), and Once Upon a Christmas compiled and edited by Emilie Griffin (Norwalk, CT: C. R. Gibson, 1993). When Reality & The Vision went out of print, it was reissued with the title The Classics We’ve Read, The Difference They’ve Made (New York: MultiMedia Communications/McCracken, 1993). Three members—John Leax, Calvin Miller, and Walter Wangerin, Jr.—also contributed to Christmas by the Hearth, a compilation of new and selected stories (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1996). Individual books that are marketed as the series, Going Deeper, were published by ZondervanPublishing House in 1998. The authors and titles are: Calvin Miller, Disarming the Darkness; Eugene Peterson, The Wisdom of Each Other; Luci Shaw, Water My Soul; Walter Wangerin, Whole Prayer; and Philip Yancey, Church: Why Bother?
Chrysostom Society members continue to write collaborative works and have expanded their writing activities to include individual books (listed above), and it solicits grants from publishers, foundations, and non-profit organizations. In1999 ZondervanPublishingHouse will publish a book on the devotional life title The Eternal Present. Eighteen members and spouses contributed 366 readings to the devotional project which is designed to help individuals in their daily walk with God. ZondervanPublishingHouse and Tyndale House Publishers have also given grants that helped sustain The Society’s activities. In the fall of 1996, it received an anonymous grant of three thousand dollars from a foundation, and Newman University supports The Society by granting interest from an endowment held in Chrysostom’s name.
While operating under the umbrella of Friends University/The Milton Center for six years (October 1986-June 1992) under the leadership of Richard J. Foster and Kansas Newman College/The Milton Center for three and one-half years (July 1992-January 1996) under the leadership of Harold Fickett, Jr., a Continuing Committee composed of three members was responsible for coordinating conferences, fund-raising, and other special events. In addition, each year two members volunteered to develop the schedule for the Annual Conference. On 19 January 1996 The Chrysostom Society sought and was granted corporation status by the State of Colorado. By-laws were presented to the membership at the 1996 Annual Conference and were adopted with corrections by the Board of Directors—President Walter Wangerin, Jr.; Vice president John Leax, and Secretary/Treasurer Lynda L. Graybeal—on 9 April 1996. At the 1997 Annual Conference Luci Shaw was elected Vice president when John Leax’s term expired. The Society applied for Internal Revenue Service 501(c)(3) classification, and provisional status was granted on 2 October 1997. David Owens became President upon the expiration of Walter Wangerin’s term of office in 1998. During the 1999 Annual Conference David Owens resigned as President and William Griffin was elected to fill Owen’s unexpired term of two years, Karen Ficket was elected Secretary/Treasurer, and Lynda Graybeal was hired as Administrator.
Though meeting only once during the year, members of The Chrysostom Society continue to actively support the activities of The Milton Center at Newman University through mentoring its Post-Graduate Fellows during the year and overseeing its day-to-day operations. It also invites The Milton Center Post-Graduate Fellows and Program Director to the Annual Conference where the Fellows read their works in progress and the Program Director gives a report on the activities of the Center.