25 January, 1950 – 7 June, 2021
The Reverend Dr. TJ (Orear) Wesley passed away peacefully, held by the prayers of family and friends around the world as he stepped into his next adventure. Born in a Minnesota snowstorm in January 1950, TJ spent his early years at Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota before his family moved to Fargo and then Minot, North Dakota. He retained a life-long appreciation for Native American peoples, cultures, and artwork, as well as Western apparel. He was often immediately recognizable from a distance because of his cowboy boots and hat. TJ first felt a call to Christian ministry in his teenage years. While serving as the conference president of the Methodist Youth Fellowship, he completed a summer internship at Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco in the late 1960s. The experience inspired him to engage in social activism during his young adult years.
TJ attended Southern Methodist University to study for ministry. In Dallas, he organized and participated in desegregation/Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War protests – activism that led to his expulsion from SMU despite being an academic honors student. Several years later, he graduated with a degree in Political Science from the University of Hawaii and never lost his appreciation for beaches, flip flops, and Hawaiian shirts. In the four-year interval between leaving SMU and enrolling at Hawaii, he traveled to the USSR, across Europe and North Africa, and spent time working on a kibbutz in Israel. During the 1970s, he earned his M.S. degree in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and taught courses at Beloit College. Politics was to TJ what a favorite sport might be to others. Conversations about politics or religion filled the Wesley household.
In his early forties, TJ felt a renewal of the call to ministry he experienced decades earlier. He chose to upend his life to follow that call. TJ earned his Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and Master of Theology (Th.M.) degrees at the Divinity School at Duke University and won the seminary’s exchange fellowship with Fredricks Wilhelm University in Bonn, Germany. The fellowship provided TJ with opportunities to study theology and Christian history in German and serve as an intern in the main Protestant cathedral in Bonn. He also built ties with people in the United Methodist Church in Germany that he maintained for many years after his return. He spent a significant portion of his free time traveling throughout Europe, collecting icons, and photographing places and artwork that touched him. TJ began ministry as a United Methodist pastor in Oak Ridge, TN in 1996. He met his wife of 24 years, Cindy, as both were preparing to serve their first ministerial appointments. They were married in February 1997 and their family expanded to include two children, Lillie and Cassian. Honoring his pledge to support Cindy’s work in ministry and higher education, TJ served faithfully as a pastor for 21 years in East Tennessee, Virginia, West Tennessee, and the United Kingdom. He earned a D.Min. in Spiritual Formation in 2004 so that he could lead retreats and serve as a resource to pastors and laity experiencing spiritual burnout. While serving in West Tennessee, TJ was also hired as an Assistant Professor at Lane College, a Historically Black College, in Jackson, TN. Teaching at Lane and interacting with the students was deeply meaningful for him.
During his last years in ministry before retiring in June 2017, he served in the British Methodist Church, managing preaching and pastoral duties in multi-chapel appointments. His last two years, serving multicultural congregations in the city of Luton, were a highlight of his years in ministry. Always the extrovert, TJ built relationships with people wherever he went and left a lasting impression on those who came to know and love him.
Throughout the six years of life in the UK, TJ took every opportunity to expose his two children to the adventures of European travel, including awesome amusement parks, budget hotels, and some of the great museums and castles of Western Europe. No trip was complete without a chance to sample the local cuisine – waffles with ice cream in Belgium, crepes in Paris, and bratwurst in Germany. Also, every trip had its share of GPS-caused detours along one-lane backroads, through goat farms, or onto to non-existent highways. TJ’s energy made life with him an adventure. His large library of books, videos, and artwork is a legacy to his immense intelligence and passion for collecting.
When Cindy accepted a job in Colorado, TJ decided to retire and be a full-time dad to two teenagers. There were no people in the world that he loved more devotedly than Cassian, Lillie, and Cindy. To him, nothing came before his family and devotion to Jesus Christ. Anyone who knew TJ well was aware of his intelligence and gifts for teaching. He had a passion for traveling and photography, as well as for collecting books, art, and films (even some really dreadful ones). He leaves a legacy to his intelligence and faith in his vast personal library of these items.
TJ wrestled with cancer for 16 years and knew that journey would end in Colorado, in sight of the Rocky Mountains. While he was well, the adventurer was determined that the family would enjoy the natural wonders of Colorado through many and varied camping trips. When all curative measures to treat his cancer were exhausted in spring 2020, TJ made the courageous decision to forgo any further treatment. His struggle with the effects of his cancer was real every moment of his last months, but he had the love and assistance of his family to help him cope. His wife and children loved him deeply and wanted him to live as comfortably as possible. Rather than seeing TJ as another cancer victim, it is more fitting to see him as one who fought the good fight for a very long time and then decided on his own terms that it was ready to rest. So, on Monday, June 7, when the Pathways Hospice chaplain took his hand to pray for him, TJ allowed those prayers to carry him to eternal life with Christ. His beloved parents, David and Mathilda (Tillie) O’Rear, and his dear father-in-law, Robert Wesley, made the journey before him. TJ is survived by his wife, Dr. Cindy Wesley, daughter Lillie and son Cassian; his mother-in-law Doris Wesley; brothers-in-law Stephen Wesley (Kittie) and Michael Wesley (Gina); his cousins, nephews, and nieces. TJ would want thanks expressed to Lisa Radice, FNP, his oncology nurse; the staff at the UC Health Cancer Center; Dr. Christopher Drysdale; Chaplain Mark and the nursing staff of Pathways Hospice.
TJ was deeply impressed with the faith of Christians in Africa and wanted to support educational efforts in Africa. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to Wesley College, Tanzania, an educational institution founded by Revs. Eric and Elizabeth Soard (former students of Cindy’s) and supported through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries (https://www.wesleycollegetzfoundation.com/get-involved - please note the donation is in memory of TJ Wesley), or to the church or charity of your choice.
- Wesley College, Tanzania
Saturday, 12 June , 2021
Celebration of Life
Saturday, 19 June , 2021
18 June 2021
TJ followed my time at Bemis. He boldly reaffirmed my ministry. He did so with a lot of courage and faith! Although my friendship with him and his wife was brief, I admired his forthrightness...
John W. LEE
17 June 2021
Cindy & family: Carroll and I fondly remember you & your family. T.J. was pastor of Carroll's home church in Bemis and then you replaced me at Adamsville First where I was serving my second itermim there. We'll remember T.J. as a scholarly minister who was perhaps out-front on many issues which churches and communities still find challenging. May God's Peace be yours. Rev. Russell N. Gallimore, clergy colleague, Jackson, TN, June 17, 2021
17 June 2021
TJ and Cindy use to come and see me for haircuts when they were in Jackson Tn . At Lambuth they had met my daughter Rachel Graves Reed and she babysat for Lilly in the early years ! I am so sorry for your loss because he was a grand and super intelligent friend whom I enjoyed immensely !God bless your family and don’t forget to celebrate the life and witness of TJ ! Love and prayers!