The Reverend Paul Edward Hoffman ’49 passed away early in the morning on February 25, 2017, in Berlin, Germany.
He was born on May 12, 1929, in Buffalo, New York. He attended Wagner, where he was a member of Sigma Delta Phi fraternity, the Student Christian Association Council, and the choir. He served as president of the Pre-Seminary Association and chairman of the Campus Community Chest. He graduated in 1946 with a B.A. in European history and philosophy. His good friends at Wagner included Edmund F. Hecklau ’50 and the late Peter Berger ’49.
After Wagner, he attended the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, one of eight seminaries associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Since early childhood, Rev. Hoffman knew he wanted to be a pastor. An oft-told family tale recounts how, at the age of 7, Paul plopped his younger brother, James, in his highchair and began preaching to him, as well as the family’s cat and dog. Though the animals didn’t convert, they did set aside their differences for the duration of the sermon. Due to his interest in European history, he applied for fellowship grants for postgraduate studies in Germany, including courses in immersion German. For these studies, he traveled to Ellierode in central Germany, where he met the woman he loves, who would seven years later become his wife — Luise Kropatscheck.
In 1952, Rev. Hoffman visited Berlin to attend a youth conference. He and several of his friends went out to explore the city, eventually ending up at the Glienicke Bridge, which spans the Havel narrows between Berlin and Potsdam. The bridge was then serving as a virtual, though unmarked, border between East and West Berlin. The students were arrested for being undocumented visitors and straying onto the East Berlin side of the border. Paul was separated from his friends because he was an American citizen. He was interrogated several times by Russian forces and held. He was finally released the next day, escorted back over the bridge, and warned not to return.
In 1958, Rev. Hoffman accepted a position with the Lutheran World Federation, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, to become the managing director of its publications division. He eventually became the assistant director for theology and education with responsibility for Africa and Asia.
In 1973, Rev. Hoffman felt called to begin a teaching mission, and accepted a position at the Mekane Yesus Seminary in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, funded by the Hermannsburg Mission Society. While in Ethiopia, he became greatly interested in the relationship between the church and the oppressive regime that existed following the deposition and execution of the Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. In 1978, Paul’s friend and mentor, Gudina Tumpsa, general secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), was kidnapped in broad daylight and then simply “disappeared.” This occurrence deeply affected Rev. Hoffman’s life, so much so that in retirement he compiled and edited Tumpsa’s theological writings into a publication, Gudina Tumpsa and His Legacy, for the Gudina Tumpsa Foundation (GTF).
Rev. Hoffman returned to Europe in 1978 as the Near East secretary for the Berlin Mission Society, a position he held until his retirement in 1994. But his dedication to his mission never waned, and so between 1995 and 2010 he and his wife returned to Addis Ababa every year for three to six months at a time, during which taught church history at the seminary and worked with the foundation.
When home in Berlin, Rev. Hoffman sometimes preached at the American Church in Berlin for vacationing ministers. He also traveled extensively with family and friends, visiting several continents.
Rev. Hoffman will be remembered as a deeply religious man and an educator at heart. Those who knew him well will also miss his unparalleled ability to spin complicated and enthralling anecdotes. He was a true raconteur.
He is survived by his wife, Luise Hoffman; son, Paul Stephen, and his wife, Christine; and grandson, Paul Alexander, and his wife, Rachel. He is also survived by his two brothers and their wives: James and Eileen Hoffman, and John and Gene Hoffman.