April 7, 2022
Dean Greg Sterling sent the following message to the YDS community today.
It is my sad duty to inform you that Tom Troeger died this past weekend at the age of 77. Tom was a Yale College alum (Class of ’67) and a beloved colleague at YDS, where he taught for the final decade of his illustrious career. He has been battling cancer for the past two years and had recently entered hospice care.
After graduating from Yale cum laude in 1967, Tom went to Colgate Rochester Divinity School, where he earned his B.D. (now designated as a M.Div.). He later received an S.T.D. degree from Dickinson College, an honorary D.D. from Virginia Theological Seminary, and, most recently, an honorary doctorate from the University of Basel, Switzerland, in 2014.
Following graduation from Colgate Rochester Divinity School, Tom was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and served as an associate pastor for the New Hartford Presbyterian Church (1970–1977). His ministerial orientation would remain with him for the remainder of his career, which he spent at three academic institutions. He returned to (now) Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall, Crozer Theological Seminary as a professor of preaching and parish ministry (1977–1991) before moving to Iliff School of Theology in Denver, where he was the Ralph E. and Norman E. Peck Professor of Preaching and Communications (1991–2005). In addition to his professorial duties, Tom began serving in administrative posts as the Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program (2000–2005) and the Senior Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs (2002–2005). It was his administrative skills that first brought him to the attention of Yale when he was a candidate for the dean’s position. When Harry Attridge was appointed dean, President Rick Levin mentioned Tom to Harry, and Harry successfully recruited Tom to Yale as the J. Edward and Ruth Cox Lantz Professor of Christian Communication (2005–2015).
Tom was a prolific author and hymnist (I have 20 of his books on my shelf). His scholarly publications fall into three broad categories. He authored more than a dozen books on homiletics, a significant number of essays for Feasting on the Word, a monthly column for Lectionary Homiletics over a period of years, and many articles and chapters that appeared in different scholarly venues. There are good reasons why he was the President of the Academy of Homiletics (1987) and Co-President of Societas Homiletica, the international guild (2008–2010).
He was not only a gifted author, but a gifted speaker. He preached annually in Marquand. The highlight of his preaching here was in 2016 when he delivered the Beecher Lectures, which he entitled “The End of Preaching.”
The second area where Tom made notable contributions is in liturgy or worship studies more broadly. He published at least five books in the area of liturgy and spirituality. He was the chaplain to the American Guild of Organists and wrote a monthly column for their journal, The American Organist, for four years. His liturgical and musical interests led to his affiliation with the Institute of Sacred Music, where he had standing during his tenure at Yale. His contributions were both theoretical and practical. He contributed to the music of Marquand worship services and to the broader YDS community in multiple ways.
This leads to the third area of Tom’s contributions, hymns. Tom was a poet and a hymnist. He highly valued creativity and its poetic expression, especially in hymns. He composed more than fifty poems and hymns that were published or performed. My favorite story about Tom as a hymn writer is the occasion when he was being welcomed by a Presbytery for recognition as an ordained Presbyterian minister (although by then he had also been ordained as an Episcopal priest). Tom was asked about his personal faith, and he responded by pointing to a Presbyterian hymnal sitting on the church pew. He said, “If you open to hymn #xxx, you will discover what I believe about creation. If you turn to hymn #yyy, you will find what I believe about Christology. If you turn to hymn #zzz, you will read what I have to say about the Holy Spirit.” It must have been one of the most unusual Presbytery discussions on record.
Tom was a talented and beloved teacher. He and Nora Tubbs Tisdale co-taught homiletics here at YDS and formed one of the most powerful teaching duos in the field. Nora said that teaching with Tom was “one of the great gifts of my life.” I know that Tom felt the same way about Nora. Speaking for their students, we were thrilled that they were here together.
There will be a memorial service on Tuesday, May 3rd, at 10 a.m. at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary in Falmouth, Maine.
The last time that I spoke to Tom he said: “I am dying, but my soul is dancing.” Tom, may your soul dance in the presence of God forever!