The Rev. Dr. Thomas Jackson (T.J.) Liggett passed away March 27, 2012, at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, CA. Liggett was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1919.
Memorial services will be held in two locations. First, at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 28, a service is set for Shiloh Baptist Church, 1500 9th Street NW, Washington DC, his daughter’s home church. That service will be officiated by both the Rev. Dr. Alvin O. Jackson and the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon. A second service will be held on Saturday, May 5 at 3 p.m. at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, Calif., where Liggett was a longtime resident.
Many in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) may remember Liggett for his key role in the denomination’s transition to a new structure in 1968. He was president of the United Christian Missionary Society during that period as it gradually changed from both domestic and international mission to what is now known as the Division of Overseas Ministries (DOM)/Global Ministries and continued as president of DOM as Disciples Home Missions was separated. He was the first missionary to serve as head of that organization.
“T.J. led with theological clarity and missional focus whether in Puerto Rico, Division of Overseas Ministries, Christian Theological Seminary or transformation of Disciples from “churches” to “Church”. His commitment to a liberating Gospel shone through everything he did – from building fine educational institutions, through church restructure, to his work for just peace and nuclear disarmament. He was a presence throughout my childhood. His untiring voice for justice challenges me to this day,” said Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Liggett was also instrumental in the release from prison of 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel. A letter from Esquivel detailing Liggett’s involvement is housed in the Archives of the Nobel Committee in Oslo, Norway.
In 1974, Liggett became president of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, leading that organization as it developed a truly global perspective on Christian faith. He served there until 1986, leaving as a legacy an endowed chair of Christian Traditions. When he arrived at CTS, the endowment had sunk to a historic low of $2,700,000. By September 1986, the endowment was valued at $30,000,000. During his tenure the Library, Sweeney Chapel, and the student apartment complex were constructed.
Early in his career, Liggett served in Argentina (1946-1957) and Puerto Rico. His extensive service for the Church included Deputy General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), president of the Evangelical Seminary in Puerto Rico (1957-1965), Latin American executive for DOM (1965-1967), moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (1985-1987) presiding over the 1987 General Assembly in Louisville.
He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Transylvania College in Lexington and the Bachelor of Divinity from Lexington Theological Seminary. He married the late Virginia Moore in 1941. They had a son, Thomas Milton, and a daughter, Margaret Ann (Peggy) who also served the church as a missionary. Condolences may be sent to his daughter: Margaret Liggett, 3501 Piney Woods Place Apartment A102, Laurel, MD 20724-5970. Memorial gifts may be sent to the Thomas J. Liggett Global Ministries Fund, Division of Overseas Ministries, PO Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206 or Pilgrim Place, 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont, CA 91711. Arrangements are pending for a memorial service in the next few weeks to be held at Pilgrim Place.
Other memories of Dr. Liggett…
“When I was a student at The College of the Bible/Lexington Theological Seminary, (1962-65; COB became LTS my senior year) a T. J. Liggett story lingered in its hallowed halls. T. J. served Antioch Christian Church, then on the rural outskirts of Lexington,while a student at COB. On the Sunday following Pearl Harbor, pondering what his witness to his congregation should be, he arrived at the church early for prayer and reflection – and then posted a picture of a Japanese family in the narthex as his courageous witness to the oneness of the human family. That story will preach! – and is sorely needed in our post-9/11 world. Obviously, T.J. continued to make that witness in his varied settings of church leadership. Thanks be to God for T.J.’s life and witness.”
– Rev. John H. Bennett
“Dr. Liggett was one of the most influential leaders the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has ever produced. The legacy of his outstanding ministry is matched only by the legacy of his amazing character. By example, he taught all of us the meaning of servant-leadership.” – Rev. Gary Kidwell, Christian Church Foundation president
“Physically frail in the past few years, T.J. remained mentally and spiritually engaged. A conversation with T.J. always left the other person seeing things a little differently, and feeling more connected to the divine.” – Rev. Glenn Carson of the Disciples Historical Society