Brenda J. Stiers ’83 M.Div. leaves a legacy of activism and service to YDS

Yale Divinity School Board of Advisors member and devoted alumna Brenda J. Stiers ’83 M.Div. died suddenly on November 10, 2013.  Stiers is remembered as a tireless volunteer who helped guide the alumni of YDS through some of the most critical years in YDS’s history.

Brenda Stiers and Dean Sterling

Brenda J. Stiers, with Dean Sterling, receives the Dean's Award for Outstanding Service

Stiers served on YDS’s Alumni Board from 1996-2002 and was a delegate to the Association of Yale Alumni. As president of YDS’s Alumni Board, she presided during one of the most tumultuous times in YDS’s history when the school’s future on Prospect Hill was uncertain.  She fielded hundreds of letters from alumni, and helped maintain an unwavering calm and confidence that helped YDS emerge with a renewed sense of mission.

Since her time on the Alumni Board, Stiers continued to serve YDS as a member of the Board of Advisors. She co-chaired her 25th Reunion in 2008, and this fall, she was a member of the 1982, 1983, 1984 cluster reunion committee.

Stiers was a generous supporter of YDS, and in 2007 during the Yale Tomorrow Campaign, she endowed the Brenda J. Stiers Scholarship, an annual scholarship supporting United Church of Christ students.

For her efforts, YDS and Dean Gregory E. Sterling awarded Stiers the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Service at a ceremony in October 2013. In anticipation of the award, she wrote, “As I reflected about my time chairing the Alumni Board, I think working with the board, the dean, and the faculty to envision and embrace a new future was the most important contribution I made to YDS.”

In her 30 years of ministry as a UCC minister, she served in several important capacities: as executive minister at New York City’s Riverside Church following YDS luminary William Sloan Coffin ’56 M.Div., as interim pastor at First Congregational Church UCC of Ridgefield, and as Executive Director of the YWCA in Greenwich, Connecticut. From 1983-1994, she served the Council of Churches and Synagogues in Fairfield County, Connecticut, eventually becoming Executive Director.

Angelique Walker-Smith ’83 M.Div., a classmate and colleague of Stiers wrote, "I have come to know firsthand what an outstanding church leader she was. She enjoyed probing the depths of theological inquiry and how to finesse complex church relationships and systems in the interest of many and not just the privileged few."

Since 2008, she has lived in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband Rev. Thomas L. Stiers. There she continued activist work focused heavily on care for the aging. Early in her career, she taught as an adjunct member of the YDS faculty in the area of ministry and gerontology, and served most recently on the board of the Agency on Aging in the city of Boulder.  

Among many alumni, she is remembered as a fierce activist, role model, and mentor for YDS women entering parish ministry. In her contribution to YDS’s fall 2013 issue of Reflections magazine entitled Test of Time: The Art of Aging, she aptly described the call that drove her ministry, writing,

“We are called to create communities of discernment that envision new futures.… There is no better way to do that than to sit down with parishioners and listen to the joys and struggles of their past and together focus on new futures that call us beyond ourselves.”

Dean Sterling expressed the sentiments of many when he said: “We are all in shock. I am so grateful that we recognized Brenda this year. She was an extraordinary Christian minister. Brenda embodied the values for which we stand as an institution. Lives like hers are the reason Yale Divinity School exists.”

The family has requested that memorial gifts in honor of Stiers may be made to the Brenda J. Stiers Scholarship Fund at YDS, 409 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06524.

A service in her memory will be held on Saturday, November 16, at 1:00 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Boulder, CO. There are tentative plans to hold a memorial service to celebrate her life next spring here in New England. We will provide details when the plans are firm.

Click to read Stiers' obituary from The Boulder Daily Camera.

Date Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 - 9:43am