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John Irwin Trotter

Pastor, teacher, reconciler, family man

The Reverend Dr. John “Irwin” Trotter, a longtime professor at the Claremont School of Theology, died on December 2, 2012 with his wife of 40 years, Gaynl, by his side. He was 85.

He was born on June 19, 1927 in Los Angeles, the third child of Frederick and Hazel Trotter. Rev. Trotter spent his youth in several southern California locations. In 1944, he won the Lions Club California State Speech Contest and, after serving as student body president his senior year, graduated from Huntington Park High School in 1945.

That same year, Rev. Trotter was drafted and served in the US Navy for 18 months. He struggled with the choice of whether to be a conscientious objector and later became a pacifist and promoter of peace. As a young man, he sensed a call to pastoral ministry. This came from hearing the Social Gospel preached and lived by his father and a strong sense of God’s presence in his life. Rev. Trotter believed peace, justice and reconciliation could become a reality in the post-World War II era and was convinced his best contribution toward accomplishing this was through the local church.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Occidental College in 1950, Rev. Trotter, a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, went on to earn a Bachelors of Divinity from Yale Divinity School in 1954 and a Doctor of Divinity from the University of the Pacific in 1970.

Rev. Trotter was ordained a Methodist pastor in 1954 and served churches in Connecticut and throughout southern California. He was the founding pastor of Granada Hills United Methodist Church and was the Los Angeles and Long Beach District Superintendent from 1967 to 1973. From 1972 to 1978, Rev. Trotter served as the director of the Conference Council on Ministries and assistant to the bishop for the Southern California-Arizona Annual Conference, serving under Bishop Charles Golden, the first african-american bishop in the annual conference. 

Rev. Trotter was involved in several interfaith dialogue groups and human relations councils. Serving the local church was deeply satisfying and challenging. As issues of race and changing demographics became the reality, he worked to encourage diversity and to reconcile people. Rev. Trotter’s patience, compassion, courage, progressiveness and theological and biblical depth gave him the tools necessary for serving in this way, according to family.

In 1972, Rev. Trotter married Gaynl Stouffer, a partner who embodied his passion for peace, justice and the church. They had one daughter, Sheena, and 2 granddaughters, Katherine and Lauren, who brought Rev. Trotter much joy, as did his extended family of nieces and nephews.

“He was a kind, gentle, witty, wise, courageous, humble, compassionate, inclusive man who was greatly loved and will be greatly missed,” said Rev. Trotter’s daughter, Sheena Trotter-Dennis. 

Friends and colleagues like Preston Price, who characterized Rev. Trotter as “a man of dichotomies,” also had high praise for him.

“He was a great preacher who loved to listen; a passionate worker for justice who was eager to seek reconciliation; one called to serve beyond the local church and passionately in love with the local church; a man of many titles who valued being called ‘Irwin’; a teacher who insisted he was taught more by his students; a serious scholar with a wonderful sense of humor; a citizen of the world and a fervent family man; a world traveler who valued being home; a public man who practiced ongoing, deep personal spirituality; a possessor of prodigious skills whose day was full if he could sing a simple lullaby to his granddaughter,” Mr. Price conveyed.

In 1984, Rev. Trotter was asked to teach preaching at the Claremont School of Theology. He held the Gerald H. Kennedy Professor of Homiletics chair until 2000. He enjoyed the challenge of working with pastoral and lay students to encourage them to find their own preaching style and voice.

When he wasn’t working, Rev. Trotter enjoyed backpacking in the High Sierras, travel, listening to opera and classical music, reading and spending time with family. Throughout his life, he explored spirituality. A self-proclaimed skeptic, his faith was neither sentimental nor shallow. He was always seeking new ways to experience the “mystery.”

In 2000, the Trotters moved to Ripon, California. There, Rev. Trotter enjoyed involvement with the Modesto First United Methodist Church, the Ripon Congregational Church and the Parkinson’s Support Group. For several years, he organized the Ripon Lions Club speech contest. In 2007, Rev. Trotter and his wife were honored with the “Bishop Melvin and Lucile Wheatley Lifetime of Justice Award.” He kept busy with several writing projects, keeping abreast of world affairs and scientific developments, supporting his wife’s endeavors and being a grandfather. 

Rev. Trotter is survived by his wife of 40 years, Gaynl; by his daughter Sheena and her husband, Pete Dennis; by his granddaughters, Katherine and Lauren; by 2 brothers and one sister; by many nieces and nephews and by countless friends.

A service celebrating Rev. Trotter’s life will be held on Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 10 a.m. at Claremont School of Theology’s Kresge Chapel, 1325 N. College Ave. An additional service will be held on Monday, January 7, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. at First Congregational Church of Ripon, 100 N. Acacia Ave. 

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Claremont School of Theology’s “J. Irwin Trotter Communications Center,” the Wilderness Society or the Parkinson’s Institute of Sunnyvale, CA.

 

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