The Executive Committee of Collegium is sad to announce the death of the Reverend Dr. Neil Wayne Gerdes, a founding member of Collegium, Professor Emeritus and longtime Dean of the Wiggin Library at Meadville Lombard Theological School. The seminary’s president, Lee Barker, writes:
“Neil was Unitarian Universalism’s librarian extraordinaire, having served on the faculty of Meadville for 40 years prior to his retirement in 2013. He was a wonderful mentor to students, a lover of books and information, a passionate spokesperson for tradition and academic protocol, an erudite conversationalist, a man of very goofy humor, and a champion for liberal theological education. He gave much to our school and our students and to our movement. The school has lost one of its giants.
“Neil’s legacy will live on through our alums, but also in Meadville Lombard’s rare book collection, which is named after him. During his years as Dean of the Library and Associate Professor of Bibliography, he ensured that the Wiggin Library played a vital role in forming ministers and serving the wider Unitarian Universalist community. Neil adapted the library to serve a new educational model and shaped it to take full advantage of a new, state-of-the-art facility. Because of this stewardship, the library will be able to continue to adapt and to serve Meadville Lombard for years to come.”
Neil’s commitment to the intellectual life of Unitarian Universalism was signaled both by his presence at the founding meeting of Collegium in the 1975-76 academic year and his devotedly continuous service as secretary-treasurer of our “Association for Liberal Religious Studies” for the next thirty-seven years. We should not forget Neil's gift for creating a warm, friendly social atmosphere during Collegium meetings: seeing to having snacks and libations, and reminding programmers not to shirk “conviviality time.” He helped dependably with ground transportation to and from meetings and airports, and generally taking good care of us by overseeing a myriad of logistical details. We honored that faithful dedication by naming Neil as our “Distinguished Scholar” for our 2014 meeting.
Neil himself provided an insightful closure of self-retrospection:
“For me my most meaningful and profound learning has come from the pages of books, often guided by great teachers. For me the most critical task of theological education is the spiritual formation of men and women into ministers. Thus my job of providing the best theological libraries I can and of teaching spiritual direction whenever possible has been one of my life’s primary pleasures and commitments.”
— Neil Wayne Gerdes