From survivors of Cambodia’s killing fields to the hungry and poor he helped worldwide, Bishop Wayne Clymer always said that he saw Christ in each person’s face.
“He saw Christ in everybody, he worshiped Christ, he served like Christ did,” said the Rev. Teri Johnson of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, where Clymer had served since 1984 as “bishop in residence.”
Clymer, of Wayzata and Bradenton, Fla., died of a stroke on Nov. 23, just hours after eulogizing a dear friend.
At 96, he had been proud to be the nation’s oldest living United Methodist bishop, said his wife, Virginia Schoenbohm Clymer.
Known for wisdom, compassion and graciousness, he treated each person as an equal, she and Johnson said.
“That was something that was so wonderful about him,” Johnson said. “It didn’t matter if you were homeless or a bishop with 300 degrees, he would have time for every person. Each person was valued.”
Son of an Ohio farmer-turned-preacher, Clymer knew early that faith was central to his life, Virginia Clymer said.
In 1939, at age 21, Clymer married Helen Graves, who preceded him in death. They had two sons.
Clymer earned a baccalaureate degree from Asbury University in Kentucky and a master’s in philosophy from Columbia. His master of divinity degree was from Union Theological Seminary and his doctorate was from New York University.
He completed post-doctoral studies at three schools and learned his pastoral duties at hospitals in Massachusetts and New York City.
He served pastorates in New York and received honorary degrees from five colleges, including Hamline University, where he later served as a board trustee.
In 1946, he became a professor at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Orlando. By 1967, he was its president.
Clymer also preached on an NBC radio program in 1970, wrote a book of sermons and was a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Conference on Refugees.
In 1972, he was among the first former members of the Evangelical United Brethren Church to be elected a bishop of the United Methodist Church, formed in a merger.
He came to Minnesota that year as a newly appointed bishop and worked here and in Iowa until retiring in 1984.
And from 1976 through 1984, he served as president of the University Methodist Committee on Relief, guiding help to victims of global hunger, genocide and disaster.
“He traveled the world to see how those funds were spent,” said son Richard, of Hastings.
In 1979, after the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, the bishop was part of a Church World Service delegation that traveled to Cambodia.
For the past 19 years, he drove three days a week to Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church to work in programs that help ex-convicts and the poor build better lives. He worked closely with staff members and confirmed rounds of eighth-graders.
Longtime friend Bishop Bruce Ough said Clymer flew from Florida to Minneapolis to say his friend’s eulogy on Nov. 23. At the end, Ough said, Clymer’s voice faded and his words slurred.
Ough said Clymer’s voice strengthened, though, when proclaiming gospel that he loved: “so whether I live and whether I die, I am the Lord’s.”
Then the bishop said, “Let us pray,” and slumped on the pulpit.
In addition to Virginia and Richard, survivors include son Kenton of DeKalb, Ill.; six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.