Jim Dayton Memorial Service

February 16, 2019
Reverend Timothy Hart-Andersen

No one in this room would have predicted we would be here, on this beautiful Minnesota winter day, mourning the death of Jim Dayton, and giving thanks for his life. It happened so suddenly it’s still hard to believe. Our grief brings us face to face with unanswerable mystery.

The preacher in Ecclesiastes says that “for everything there is season, a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.” Age-old wisdom, perhaps, but it’s difficult to understand why this had to be Jim’s time – and even harder to see the purpose in his death.

On the other hand it’s easy to see purpose in his life, and plenty of it. Whether in his role as a father or husband, son or brother, colleague or friend, anyone who was part of Jim’s world knew he was there for a reason. Jim was more than a designer of buildings; he was an architect of community, from his own family to James Dayton Design to the duck hunting club to Blake School to the hockey rink to Woodhill to this church and to the wider community. All of us feel the void left by his absence, evidence of how much he meant to us, and what a difference he made in this world.

So as we gather the first thing to say is that if by some misguided calculation it was Jim’s time, we lodge our protest. We have come to push back against death and declare that life and love have the last word; after the dark night the dawn will surely come.

Our sorrow today runs deep. We miss Jim, and we want to say to you, Megan, and to you, Emma and Joe, and to you, Joanie, Toby, and Scott, our hearts have broken with yours.

But we do not stop there. Megan told me she and Jim lived by this motto: “We will get through it all with humor and grace.” Humor and grace have been two of the words we’ve heard most in the last three days as people have spoken about Jim. He had a lightness of being and a gracious spirit.

That combination saw Jim and Megan through 25 years of marriage. There were challenges along the way as there are in any partnership, but they got through it all with laughter and love.

Megan first encountered Jim in an architectural studio class at the University of Virginia. She told me, “I made a decision quickly that I wanted to be a part of his world. It was then, and always, a world full of excellence, generosity, intelligence, and above all, laughter. Always laughter.”

Megan now reports she has added another word to the motto: humor, grace, and gratitude. “Remembering to be grateful for our time with Jim,” she said, “Prevents us from becoming resentful that the time was a bit short.”

Gratitude is at the heart of Christian faith. It frames our relationship with God, from birth to death, and beyond.

The 17th century English clergyman George Herbert wrote,

“Thou who has given so much to me,

Give one thing more, a grateful heart….

Not grateful when it pleases me,

As if thy grace had spare days;

But such a heart,

Whose pulse may be thy praise.”

Jim was a member of this church, but he was not one to wear Christianity on his sleeve. He chose instead to live it. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” the letter to the Colossians says, offering a pretty good description of how Jim lived. He was authentic, unpretentious, generous, and kind.

“Above all,” the letter goes on to say, “Clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Then it offers a final word: “And be thankful.”

We may gather today with heavy hearts, but they also brim over with gratitude for Jim.

I know we at Westminster are grateful for what Jim has given us. For six years he and his colleagues listened and drew, and listened some more and then changed the drawings. It’s not always easy working with a church – something to which I can attest. But Jim’s patience, and the James Dayton Design team’s willingness to stay with us through hundreds of hours, resulted in a stunning new wing.

Over those years of work we thought we were designing new spaces; it turns out the spaces now have started to design us. Jim knew that would happen. And it’s happening in every building he designed. He was an architect of human relationships, not merely of rooms and hallways and parking garages.

Jim told me this was the first project he had undertaken where he felt no constraints on his work. The result is magnificent new liturgical and civic space, a gift to the city Jim loved. I invite you to take a look around and see his artistry.

Jim’s great, great-grandfather George Draper Dayton, a Presbyterian from Worthington, convinced Westminster to move to this site following the fire in 1895 that destroyed the church building at 7th and Nicollet. He figured that would be a better location for a store than a church. He was right.

His generosity helped the congregation build this sanctuary and begin to make a new home on this block. One hundred twenty years later, his great, great-grandson finished what he had started. Jim never spoke publicly about that history, but he felt a deep, quiet satisfaction in it.

Jim enjoyed being a father. Both Emma and Joe describe how he would drive or fly hundreds of miles to cheer them on in their sports.

Emma told me about her dad,

“We both always said that we would rather be hanging out with each other painting or drawing and watching stupid movies than doing anything else. I especially enjoyed sitting in the basement studio with him surrounded by paint and markers doing calligraphy and watercolor paintings. I loved that the most.”

Joe said,

” If I could make sure that one thing is definitely said about my father I would want it to be about how supportive he was. He made time to go to anything for anyone. He went to Blake JV hockey games even after I left Blake. He went to Orono hockey games to support my Orono friends from 6th and 7th grade.”

Both Joe and Emma describe their dad as not especially strict. Maybe “firm” would be a

better word, they said…or even, well, “soft.”

He was, as Joe said, “Caring, generous, and loving.”

“An absolute light,” Emma said, “In everyone’s life.”

Your dad may not be with you any longer on this earth, but the light of his life has not been extinguished.

That goes for you, too, Joanie, Toby, and Scott. As you well know it’s almost three years ago to the day that we gathered here to say farewell to Bob. To lose a husband and a son, a father and a brother, in such quick succession is too much for anyone to bear by themselves. You are not alone.

There is a love that never abandons us, a love that binds us to one another, a love that spans generations and stretches even through life beyond life. That is the love of God, which will not be stopped by anything, not even by death itself.

Jim felt the Westminster project would not be complete until bells were hanging in the tower he designed. From the start he wanted the bells to be a signature sound in this city, calling us to come together as one community to make this a better world. That was, after all, his lifework, his purpose under heaven.

Jim and I spoke about the bells earlier this week. They will be forged this summer and installed in early fall – and they will ring as part of the legacy of this remarkable man, who was a gift to us all.

Thanks be to God for the life of Jim Dayton.

Thanks be to God for a love that cannot be taken from us.

Thanks be to God.


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