The Man, The Life, The Legacy of Pastor Clarence Sutton, Sr.
Monday, October 11th Tuscaloosa lost one of the most impacting people to serve the community, Pastor Clarence Sutton, Sr. He always had a smile and loved life and sharing the gospel while fighting at the same time.
Rev. Clarence Sutton, Sr. was born in Anniston, Alabama on February 2, 1945, to Lois Cofield Sutton Johnson and Sylvester Sutton. The second of four boys, he spent his youth playing with his brothers and attending Mt. Calvary Baptist Church where he sang in the youth choir and served as a junior deacon. He graduated from Cobb Avenue High School in 1963. Upon graduation, he earned a scholarship from the state of Alabama to attend Alabama State College, now Alabama State University. While at Alabama State, he became involved in several campus organizations, working as a student manager for the baseball team and joining the Gamma Beta Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, Incorporated in 1965. He also served as his senior class president and received his Bachelor of Arts in art education in 1967. He furthered his education at the University of Alabama where he earned his Master of Science in special education and an administration certification.
A career educator for 33 years, Rev. Sutton worked in several school systems in Alabama as an art, social studies, and special education teacher, coach, and administrator. He had a gift of building meaningful relationships with students and staff wherever he worked. His first teaching assignments were in Bibb County Schools at West Blocton Heights Elementary and then at H.D. Davidson High School in Centreville, Alabama. He then taught at Boteler High School in Holt, Alabama before moving to the Tuscaloosa City School System. From 1971 until he retired in 1997, he worked at Eastwood Junior High School, Tuscaloosa High School, Central High School (both east and west campuses), and Program Future. After retirement, he ended his professional career after two years as an adjunct instructor at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, teaching the course “The Exceptional Child.” He later served as a board member for the Tuscaloosa City Schools.
Pastor Sutton believed that it was his duty to serve his community. He created “Haven on Earth,” a non-profit that supported programs that serve the community. One such program was “Real Men” which partnered with Westlawn Middle School in Tuscaloosa to teach boys what it takes to be a real man: one who protects, provides, and instructs. He wanted to provide experiences that taught them that “the world is bigger than the block they live on” so he arranged for weekly meetings with male mentors and a trip to Washington, D.C. to tour the capitol. Haven on Earth also helped to sponsor “The Beloved Community Lecture Series” in honor of Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. A champion for social justice, he accepted leadership roles in the community. In 2005, he was elected president of the Tuscaloosa County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As president, he implemented successful membership drives and orchestrated a gun buy-back program that eliminated several deadly weapons from the community. His premier initiative was The Legacy Banquet in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. This banquet raised funds to support SCLC programs.
In 1971, he dedicated his life to Christ and joined Beautiful Zion A.M.E. Zion Church. He was called to preach and on the 4th of July 1971, he preached his first sermon under The Reverend Sylvester Croom. During his ministry, he served as pastor of Weeping Mary in Holt, Alabama, Tabernacle in Tuscaloosa, AL and Clinton Chapel in Indianapolis, IN. He also studied at Christian Theological Seminary.
In 1978 in Holt, Alabama, Clarence, five other adults and four children met in The Sutton’s living room to worship God and share in the Holy Communion which was the beginning of Christian Community Church. As part of the vision, Christian Community Church Learning Center was founded in 1996. During his forty-year tenure as founding pastor, he saw over twenty male and female ministers answer their call to preach, witnessed the growth of the congregation to more than four hundred members, and became overseer of Movement Toward Freedom Church. In 2018, he retired and became pastor emeritus, passing the pastoral role to his son, Dr. Clarence Sutton, Jr. Today, Christian Community Church continues to fulfill the vision by moving in four directions at the same time: worship, mission, education, and service.
One of his life-long dreams came when he traveled extensively. First to Mexico soon after marriage and then to Canada in his thirties. Later in his life, he traveled abroad to Germany, France, The Holy Land, Ghana, and Jamaica. He described his trips to The Holy Land, Ghana, and Jamaica as life-changing because of the connection he felt to God and his cultural history.
Pastor Sutton was preceded in death by his mother, Lois Cofield Sutton Johnson, grandparents, Nancy and Isom Curry, and brothers, Javis and Calvin Johnson. Fond memories of him will forever be cherished by his devoted wife of fifty-four years, Gwendolyn Adams Sutton, his loving children, Clarence (Jameka) Sutton, Jr., Candace (Alec) Sutton Hawkins, and Carmen (Doug) Sutton Dahl. Clarence also leaves six adoring grandchildren: Jessica Monique Sutton, Clarence “Trey” Sutton, III, Lauryn-Catherine Sutton, Myles Sutton Hawkins, Alyce Lynette Hawkins, and Nina Symone Sutton, his brother, Lawrence (Debra) Sutton, and a host of nieces, nephews, and cousins, two brother-in-laws and four sister-in-laws.
Celebration of Life services will be held at the Christian Community Church in Tuscaloosa on Saturday October 23, 2021 at 11am. Pastor Sutton was truly a dynamic leader in Tuscaloosa and his presence that touched thousands of lives in West Alabama and the world will be missed.
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