Wayne Clymer: A bishop looks back from age 95

October 26, 2012

By: Amanda Yanchury

Two world wars, a denominational merger, the rise of the digital age—Bishop Wayne Clymer, who turned 95 this year, has seen this and more, and continues to be an active and respected leader in the Minnesota Conference and across the United Methodist Church.

Born Sept. 24, 1917, in Napoleon, Ohio, Wayne Clymer began his career as an ordained clergyperson in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, a predecessor body of the United Methodist Church. He served as both dean and president of Evangelical Theological Seminary in Illinois before being elected a bishop in the United Methodist Church in 1972, just four years after our denomination was formed by merger.

His first episcopal assignment was the Minnesota Annual Conference, which he led until 1980.

Change is a constant

Clymer has seen many changes in the church, starting with the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist Church in 1968.

“I was hardly in favor of the merger, but I think it went very well,” Bishop Clymer said. “We lost very few churches. The church was very helpful in allocating Evangelical United Brethren resources across the board.”

Clymer also notes we’ve seen sociological changes throughout the years.

“Our culture has shifted from thriving rural areas to seeing those little towns get smaller,” Clymer said. “Now, many churches are pastored by local pastors since the churches may not be able to afford a full-member pastor. We’ve also seen a decline in membership,” he said.

Not all of the changes are negative, however. Clymer also notes an openness to more diversity—an example being the formation of churches with Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and other roots.

His priorities as a bishop were pastoral development and missions.

 “I had spent 26 years getting pastors ready, and now I got to spend the rest of my life helping them along the way,” he says. “I tried to give encouragement and guidance when I could. Strengthening churches was my focus.”

Bishop Clymer was also the chair of United Methodist Committee on Relief from 1976 to 1984.

“We traveled throughout the Third World visiting projects,” he says. “It opened my eyes to the needs of the world, in terms of refugees, poverty, agriculture, and political conflict.”

He found “transforming” a trip he led with 27 young people to Africa to get experience working with churches in the developing world.

Missions is still his focus

Upon retiring in 1984, Clymer moved back to Minnesota. Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis invited him to be their “bishop in residence,” a role he maintains today.  He preached to that congregation on his 95th birthday, in September.

The church’s lead pastor, Bruce Robbins, says Bishop Clymer has served as a mentor for him.

“He lends wisdom to the church community,” Robbins says. “We turn to him especially to be involved in discussions because of his knowledge in history and United Methodist polity. He also serves an important role representing the EUB tradition, and helping us to understand the merger better.”

He participates in the Hennepin Avenue ministry in many ways: with the church’s international outreach and peace and justice efforts; the Dignity Center, the church’s ministry to the homeless; and occasionally helping with worship.

Robbins says he what he appreciates most about Bishop Clymer is his graciousness, kindness, and availability to always lend an ear.

Retired bishops retain membership in the United Methodist Council of Bishops, where he remains active and serves on the education committee.

“Bishop Clymer is a remarkable gift to the North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops, the Council of Bishops and the entire United Methodist Church,” Bishop Bruce R. Ough says. “He displays sought-after wisdom from the intersection of his abiding spiritual vitality and remarkable life and leadership experience. I look forward to every opportunity I have to be in Bishop Clymer’s presence because my own assumptions and assurances are tested and balanced by the statesmanship and depth of his insights.”

Clymer is still giving thought to the ministry and relevance of the United Methodist Church.

“I think it becomes increasingly clear that the impact of the church is through its local congregations, and not through the superstructure of the boards and agencies of the church, as important as they are,” he says. “I think we need to maintain our focus on the recruitment and training of qualified persons to be leaders for our churches.”

Though they appreciate their ministry in Minnesota, Clymer and his wife, Virginia Schoenbohm Clymer, winter in Bradenton, Florida, from November through April each year.

Amanda Yanchury is communications assistant for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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