Alumni Profile: Troy Messenger

December 16, 2015

In His Own Words

Troy Messenger, M.A.R. ‘83; M.Div. ‘88

I work at Union Theological Seminary, where I have now been for twenty years. I wear both practical and academic hats, directing the daily chapel program and also teaching in worship and the arts. Together with my team of chapel ministers, professional and student musicians, and other members of the practical field, we work hard to make and teach meaningful worship that is responsive to the world in which we live. Our close allies in this endeavor are the performing and visual artists who are frequent guests to our classroom and chapel.  My office in the chapel tower was once home to Union’s School of Sacred Music, the predecessor to the ISM at Yale.

I had first graduated from YDS and the ISM in 1983 when my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, was undergoing a radical theological shift and purging many of the scholars and ministers I most respected. I worked for three years in Texas doing radio and television production work while discerning my call. In 1986, an opportunity arose to work at a scrappy Baptist church in Times Square that was doing some exciting work in the arts and community ministry. We moved to New York on a shoestring, and I came back to the ISM to complete my M.Div. degree. One of the more challenging years of my life was attending full time at Yale while living in Jersey City and working in Manhattan. A few years later I entered the performance studies Ph.D. program at NYU, where work with Richard Schechner and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett introduced me to the possibilities of ritual and performance. I started my work at Union just as I was completing the dissertation, and have had a lively two decades since, following in the shadows of the School of Sacred Music and many of the faculty who influenced me so deeply at the ISM.

My current work is largely focused on preparing students to create and lead worship, attentive both to the moment and the many deep traditions of our community. Nothing pleases me more than watching our students step confidently into leadership. Last December, one group of our introduction to preaching and worship class was scheduled to lead the weekly communion chapel on the day that the non-indictment of the officer involved in the Eric Garner killing was announced. On short notice, they were able to adapt their prayers, sermon, and song to hold the pain of our community and make space for our response – a beautiful moment in which a class project became grace for the community.

I appreciate the rigorous study of liturgical traditions, the exposure to practices different from my own, and the vibrant conversations with peers that I got at YDS/ISM. Beyond the divinity school, I took great pleasure in exploring the rich resources of the University, particularly the art and architecture library, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and of course, Woolsey Hall. I have treasured memories of participating in sung morning prayer, singing with the Marquand Chapel Choir, my practicums with Jeffery Rowthorn, and the pleasure of once finding myself at table in the refectory with Roland Bainton.

A surprising discovery for me at that time was the electronic music lab at the Yale School of Music. Many nights I would book a 2-6:00am shift in the lab and spend the wee hours of the morning creating the sound track for my thesis project, which was probably one of the more unusual pieces of liturgical music Jeffery Rowthorn oversaw!