The Lenten Light-Bearer: Remembering The Rev. John R. Claypool

by the Ven. Mimsy Jones


Coming to hear John Claypool preach at Calvary’s Lenten Preaching Series was a Do. Not. Miss. Event. In his soft Southern voice, John engaged our hearts and minds to hear Jesus’ parables or the stories of Genesis not only with new ears but also with a new vulnerability. Undergirding all of his preaching was his conviction that Life is Gift, and that God the Ingenious Alchemist can turn the heavy lead of grief and despair into the gold of gratitude. “If we are willing, the experience of grief can deepen and widen our ability to participate in life,” he wrote in his book Tracks of a Fellow Struggler.


John had experienced that divine alchemy after his beloved daughter Laura Leu died of acute leukemia when she was only ten years old. After wrestling with grief and anger that threatened to undo him, John said that he began to understand that her life had been pure gift and that he was deeply blessed to have had her in his life at all. His message spread far and wide among what he called ‘fellow strugglers.’


John Claypool was born in Frankfurt, Kentucky, and grew up in Nashville. Originally a Baptist pastor, he was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1968 and played a pivotal leadership role in the volatile years of struggle for civil rights in the South. He was a preacher of powerful compassion and astute Biblical interpretation, enriched by a rich, self-effacing sense of humor.


The first time I heard him preach during LPS, he introduced his sermon saying: “I love coming to Memphis! I’ve loved coming here since I was five years old. My mother brought me here from Nashville every year to buy my clothes at Lowenstein’s. She swore by shopping in Memphis. When I was six or seven and one of my mother’s friends asked, “Johnny, where did you get those bright blue eyes?” I told her I’d gotten them in Memphis.”


One day, after John had preached and eaten lunch in the Waffle Shop, he asked a few of us where he could buy a raincoat that afternoon. He was preaching at Calvary again the next day, and heavy rain was predicted. He needed a new raincoat, anyway, and Memphis seemed like a good place to find one.


I’m not sure how I got the assignment to drive him to the nearest men’s store, but I did, and what I thought would be a one-stop shopping gig turned into an all-afternoon trek from store to store to store. (Lowenstein’s had long since closed.)


John was determined to find just the right coat – at just the right price. It was like shopping with Goldilocks: the coats were either too long, too short, too flimsy to repel water, or too (way too) expensive.


He apologized profusely for being so finicky, and we both started laughing. The more stores we visited, the more we laughed. By the time we found the right raincoat, we had become fast friends, and since by now we were close to where Frank and I lived, I stopped at our house where the two of them shared a good laugh and drank a toast to our mission accomplished. I will never forget that afternoon of laughter and light in the midst of Lent.


John Claypool died on September 15, 2005, at the far too young age of 74. He came among us as a fellow struggler deeply acquainted with grief, and he taught us, by word and example, that Life is Gift, that Love is Eternal, and that, “Through thick and thin and the very worst of times, the Ingenious Alchemist can still do the best of things.”  (The Ingenious Alchemist).

9 thoughts on “The Lenten Light-Bearer: Remembering The Rev. John R. Claypool”

  1. Oh, Mimsy, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story about John Claypool. I remember him well, and his kindliness and bravery in the face of such a crushing loss. He was one of my LPS favorites!

  2. One of our perennial favorites, Ed and I were lucky to have him for dinner a few times. We were like students at the feet of our beloved professor, hungry to gobble up every word. He was such a regular guy but so profound due to his broad life experiences. Wish we could see him in Calvary’s pulpit just one more time.

  3. Thank you so much Mimsy. I love this story so much being a Memphian and understanding alchemy and Lowensteins and finding just the right fit( in life) and all the laughter and light and like my Jep, dying at 74. I appreciated this tonight. Thank you again☺️💜

    1. Dear Zada, Forgive this delayed reply to your beautiful message about my John Claypool blog. You are such a gifted writer, and thinker, and I am honored to have touched your big warm heart with this piece about wondrous John Claypool. Thank you.

  4. I remember him describing his own tragedies as their crashing through one floor to another to another, and then his claiming “we have been to the bottom and found it firm.” I don’t know how long ago I heard that but those words have helped me through some dark experiences in my own deep pits.

  5. Dear Mimsy, thank you for sharing a new to me story about this beloved man. I met him about this time of year at LPS on the first anniversary of our son’s death (Tuesday was the 32nd). We had a special prayer at the altar rail, and I heard him every year he was here after that; read all his books; sent friends those books, the sermon tapes (remember those?), and to his grief class in Birmingham; and corresponded with him a few times before his death. What a gift he was to us at Calvary and so many fellow strugglers around the world. Thank you for the gift of your post!

  6. I had just experienced a loss when he came to Calvary. His words were like a balm for me. I bought his tapes and listened to them over and over. What a gentle soul he had and his acceptance of loss was what helped me through mine.

  7. thank you, mimsy. john sounds like a gift, himself, to those fortunate enough to have been in his presence.
    i’m grateful to you for sharing this story (forwarded from lee duncan).

  8. I just wanted to give a note to let you know you have written a lovely tribute to Dr. Claypool. I came across it as I was preparing for Glad Reunion, a weekend celebration of his life and ministry being held in Louisville, September 16-18. I will be on a dialogue panel regarding his pastoral ministry; my role is to speak to ways grief shaped and sharpened his ministry. I was fortunate to know Dr. Claypool. It is always so nice to hear personal stories and encounters from others. Again, thank you for this post.

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