Teacher, author, minister, friend: James T. Clemons, 1929-201102-04-2011
The Rev. Dr. James T. (Jim) Clemons, 81, passed away on Friday, Jan. 14, 2011. He died at the scene after being accidentally struck by a morning commuter train in Gaithersburg, Md.
Clemons was preceded in death by his wife of 47 years, Barbara Pettingill Clemons, a native of Plumerville, Ark. He is survived by a daughter, the Rev. Margaret E. Clemons of Severn, Md., a son, J. Thomas Clemons of Port Clinton, Ohio, a daughter-in-law, Karen Yassky Clemons and grandchildren Rebecca Perkins, Benjamin Clemons and Jonathan Clemons.
Born Oct. 17, 1929, to Mildred and Russell Clemons, he was raised in Wynne, Ark. He received his undergraduate degree at Hendrix College in 1951, his Divinity degree from SMU Perkins School of Theology in 1954 and a Ph.D. from Duke University in 1963. He was an ordained Elder in the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
He served churches in Texas and Arkansas, on staff at Hendrix College, as chaplain and associate professor at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and for twenty-eight years taught biblical studies at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
Upon his retirement from Wesley in 1995, he was named Professor Emeritus of New Testament and continued to teach there occasionally. In addition, he continued his ministry into his 81st year by serving Severn UMC in Severn, Md., as the youth minister for middle and senior high school students.
Clemons was respected as a ground-breaking leader in suicide prevention, a topic he researched extensively for more than a quarter-century.
He published more than 25 articles on suicide prevention and four books: What does the Bible say about Suicide?, Perspectives on Suicide, Sermons on Suicide, and Children of Jonah: Personal Stories by Survivors of Suicide Attempts, with a forward by Judy Collins. He advised four Protestant denominations on writing compassionate policies about suicide.
He founded the Organization for Attempters and Survivors of Suicide in Interfaith Services (OASSIS) in 1997, and served as President until it dissolved in 2006. OASSIS’ mission was to raise awareness in all faiths of the problem of suicide and to “To enrich the lives of those who have been, and will be, touched by suicide.” OASSIS initiated and co-sponsored several national conferences in the field of suicide prevention, as well as sponsoring several state-wide conferences.
Clemons’ work via OASSIS was highly commended by former U. S. Surgeons General Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders and Dr. David M. Satcher, the National Council of Suicide Prevention and CrisisLink of Arlington, Va. He helped to initiate “It Takes a Community: A Summit on Opportunities for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention in Senior Living Communities,” the first national summit of its kind, held at Asbury Methodist Village in 2008.
A life-long advocate and activist for civil rights, Clemons preached against segregation in the 1950s and continued his advocacy by editing the 2007 book Crisis of Conscience: Arkansas Methodists and the Civil Rights Struggle. Crisis of Conscience contains personal stories by Arkansas pastors, laypersons and community leaders whose faith led them to oppose and resist racial segregation in the mid-20th century South.
Hendrix College awarded Clemons an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree, named him their 2005 Humanitarian of the Year and in 2009 honored him with the Mary and Ira Brumley Award for Religious Education from the college’s Marshall T. Steel Center for the Study of Religion and Philosophy—the same year in which he received a Medal of Commendation from the U.S. Public Health Service.
A strong supporter of education at all levels, he arranged for his body to be donated for medical training and research upon his death.
Arkansas friends remember Clemons fondly. He and the Rev. Charles McDonald became friends in the mid-1950s.
“I was amazed at how smart he was,” McDonald says. “He was a real scholar.” And though his gifts for teaching, writing and advocacy took him far, “he always kept his ties to Arkansas.” McDonald knew to expect a visit any time Clemons returned to the central Arkansas area.
“I had just gotten to know Jim though our short time working together, but considered him one of Methodism’s senior statesmen,” said the Rev. Maxine Allen, who was collaborating with Clemons on the forthcoming supplement to Crisis of Conscience. “His passion to enhance racial relations was undaunted as he searched to preserve historical accuracy by finding truth within personal stories.”
Those who knew Clemons can testify that he lived a full life with both passion and compassion: as activist and author; teacher and mentor; minister and counselor; loving friend, husband, father and grandfather; and, as he believed about everyone, a child of God.
Celebration of Life services for Clemons have been held at Severn UMC and Asbury Methodist Village. Additional services will be held at Metropolitan Memorial UMC, Washington, D.C., Feb. 26 at 2 p.m., and Hendrix College, Conway, Ark., at a date and time to be announced.
Cards may be sent to the Rev. Margaret Clemons and Tom Clemons, c/o Asbury Care Management, 417 Russell Ave., Gaithersburg, MD 20877.
Donations, in lieu of flowers, may be made to any of the following:
Severn UMC, 1215 Old Camp Meade Rd., Severn, MD 21144-1138;
Asbury Foundation, to benefit Asbury Methodist Village, 201 Russell Ave., Gaithersburg, MD 20877;
Wesley Theological Seminary, 4500 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016.