The Reverend James W. Clayton

The Reverend James W. Clayton


Let us remember with thanksgiving the life and ministry of Rev. James Winston Clayton, 89, who died Sunday, November 20, 2016 at St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital in Murfreesboro, TN.

Jim, as he was known to his family and friends, was born on August 17, 1927 in Soddy-Daisy, TN. As the child of a United Methodist pastor, Jim moved several times during his early years. After completing high school in White River Junction, VT, his family moved to Hicksville, NY. Beginning in 1944, he attended New York University, where he earned a bachelor of arts in English, and then Union Theological Seminary, where he earned a bachelor of divinity.

Jim served several Long Island Methodist churches between 1948 and 1955: St. John’s in Brooklyn, Cold Spring Harbor, First Methodist in Glendale, and Stony Brook. In 1955 he returned to Union Theological Seminary and earned a master of sacred theology. Jim then served at Lucien Memorial Methodist Church in Kings Park from 1956-1960 and at New Hyde Park Methodist Church from 1960-1966.

While at Union Theological Seminary Jim studied with two great twentieth century theologians, Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, who would continue to influence him for the rest of his life. From 1966-1970 he attended Harvard University, earning his PhD in 1971. Jim went on to have a rewarding career as a professor of religion, beginning for two years at McKendree College in Lebanon, IL and continuing for 23 years at Sewanee, University of the South in Sewanee, TN.

In addition to teaching, Jim contributed in many ways to the community and college life at Sewanee. In the early 1980s, a minority student affairs committee was created; Jim served on that committee as a member and also as its chair. The committee led to the appointment of a director of minority student affairs and later to the establishment of the Ayres Multi-Cultural Student Center and the Summer Scholars program. For Jim, this work grew out of a deep commitment to equal rights and tolerance, which had been sparked decades earlier when, with a small group of people with whom he worked as a Methodist minister, he participated in the March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Jim is survived by his beloved wife of 62 years, Doris R. Clayton. Jim and Doris shared interests in history, literature, music and art, making their life together rich in experiences and happiness. After many years of retirement in Sewanee, Jim and Doris moved to Murfreesboro, TN in 2011.

Jim is also survived by his three sisters, Mary Kohn of Fairfield, PA, Patricia Milnes of Walnut Creek, CA and Irma Kaslow of Chambersburg, PA; his three children, Douglas Clayton of Acton, MA, Susan Lewis of Murfreesboro, TN and Deborah Lister of Malvern, United Kingdom; his eight grandchildren, Amanda Day, Charles Lister, Anna Lister, Emily Lister, Collin Lewis, Benjamin Clayton, Noah Clayton and Henry Clayton; and his two great-grandchildren, Oscar Robin James Lister and Marshall James Day.

Burial will take place in Sewanee on Dec. 2, 2016, following a family service at St. Augustine's Chapel at Sewanee, University of the South. Condolences may be sent to the online guestbook at