LAKELAND – Friends and associates of Bishop James Lloyd Knox, a servant of God homegrown in the Florida Conference, were remembering his unflappable dedication to mission as word of his death Sunday in Alabama spread to the Sunshine State. The retired bishop was 85.
“The guy just had a heart like you wouldn’t believe,” said Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of Missional Engagement for the Florida Conference. Campbell-Evans was one of several conference members who described Knox’s dedication to building relationships in Christ as the bishop’s greatest gift.
|Local services for Bishop James Lloyd Knox will be held Saturday, April 26, at Hyde Park UMC, Tampa.|
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 16, at First UMC in Gadsden, Ala., where Knox made his home in recent years. A second service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at Hyde Park UMC, Tampa, where Knox has a special connection and will be laid to rest beside his first wife, Edith, who died in 2008.
Knox was born in Tampa in 1929. He graduated from Florida Southern College in Lakeland in 1951 and went on to seminary at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He served a church in North Georgia as he was working toward his Master of Divinity degree.
After his ordination in the Florida Conference, Knox and his wife Edith served as missionaries in Cuba and Argentina between pastoral appointments to churches in the Sunshine State. Knox served as district superintendent in Miami and DeLand before being elected bishop in 1984. He was first assigned to the Birmingham area, then to Atlanta in 1992.
After his retirement in 1996, Knox served as interim bishop twice in Florida during the illness and subsequent death of Bishop Cornelius Henderson in a period from 1999 to 2001.
“Lloyd Knox was a visionary leader who embodied many of the changes that are shaping the church,” said Bishop Ken Carter, who began leading the Florida Conference in September 2012.
“He was a missional bishop and a servant leader. He took a personal interest in youth, young adults and younger clergy, and he connected leaders with God’s mission to the marginalized. Certainly the history of the Florida Conference cannot be told apart from his ministry.”
"I was grateful to come to know Bishop Knox over the past two years,” Carter added. “He was encouraging to me as I was getting started in his beloved state and home conference and was an example of how one takes up a leadership role for the sake of others."
Whether Knox was serving as a missionary, a church pastor, a district superintendent or in the episcopal office, his ministry was marked by the ability to chuckle at adversity and move forward, said longtime friend and clergy colleague, Rev. Gene Zimmerman.
“He was kind of driven by that pastoral spirit and affection for people,” said Zimmerman, retired pastor of First UMC, Orlando, who met Knox in 1951 when the two were enrolling at Candler.
“I’m amazed at the kind of spiritual equilibrium he had,” Zimmerman said. “He had to be at times in some very difficult conflicts as a bishop. Sometimes he’d tell me about one and then just laugh.
“The Bible says God is the same yesterday, today and forever. And so was Lloyd.”
Rev. Jim Harnish, pastor at Hyde Park UMC, said Knox’s ties there go back to the late bishop’s teenage years in the 1940s. Knox was not from a church-going family but showed up at Hyde Park to join the Boy Scouts that met at the church. He became active in the congregation.
“He experienced his call to ministry here,” Harnish said.
Later, when he began serving as an elder in the Florida Conference, the congregation sought his leadership during a challenging time for the church and its surrounding community. Knox was pastor there from 1973 to ’77. The church later named its remodeled fellowship hall for the man who found Christ within its walls.
The ashes of Knox’s first wife were interred in the Hyde Park memorial garden, and Knox left written instructions to be laid to rest beside her.
“They’ll be coming home to Hyde Park,” said Harnish, who became friends with Knox and expects to preside over the bishop’s memorial service in Tampa.
“He was one of the most genuine, real people, a man of deep faith and deep compassion.”
Campbell-Evans credits Knox with setting him on a path to mission work and church leadership. When Campbell-Evans was 17 and active in youth leadership at a church in Tampa, Knox invited him to go meet with migrant citrus pickers who lived in deplorable conditions, with no running water and sometimes only blankets hung for a door. People were cooking over fire inside tiny homes, Campbell-Evans recalled.
"Meet people where they are. ... Let them know that you care about them."
Knox, then pastor at Hyde Park, spoke Spanish and took the time to listen to the people in the fields.
“Here was the pastor of a church who was saying the walls of the church are not important. We’re going to be the body of Christ,” Campbell-Evans said.
“It was the first time I’d met a pastor where the world was his parish. He just had a heart for people,” he added. “He had a profound effect on my life.”
Campbell-Evans said that field visit inspired him to follow in Knox’s footsteps as a missionary and later an urban minister and then district superintendent in Miami. Through the years, Campbell-Evans confided in Knox about the challenges he faced.
Knox’s advice always focused on personal relationships, Campbell-Evans said.
“Meet people where they are,” he quoted Knox as saying. “Try to realize you’ve got relationships with these people for years to come. … Let them know that you care about them.”
During his time in Florida, Knox served churches in West Palm Beach, Tampa and St. Petersburg. He also had served on UMC general boards or commissions of Church and Society, Religion and Race, Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns and Global Ministries.
He was president of the General Board of Global Ministries’ World Division from 1988 to 1992. He also had served as a trustee of 12 colleges.
Dr. Thomas Kemper, Global Ministries general secretary, said the board considered the Knoxes part of its missionary family, and they remained interested in global mission work long after taking up ministry in the states.
“Bishop Knox was a strong advocate for the national ethnic plans that address the spiritual and community interests of racial minority and immigrant groups in the U.S.,” Kemper said.
Knox is survived by his wife Julia and two children, Richard Michael and Carol Anne. The family requests that memorial gifts be sent to Alfalit International, 3026 NW 79th St., Miami, FL 33122., or to the Crossman Memorial Scholarship Fund at Bethune-Cookman University, 640 Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL 32114.
* Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection. Kathy L. Gilbert of the United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.