The Rt. Rev. James Malone Coleman, second Bishop of West Tennessee, died May 4 in Baton Rouge, aged 90. The Rt. Rev. Phoebe Roaf, current bishop of the diocese, recalled his work in fostering church growth and reconciliation: “Bishop Coleman’s leadership included a vision for the planting of new churches and a strategic plan to foster growth in the diocese. Using small group meetings and open forums, his episcopacy brought about healing and reconciliation on diverse issues.”
A native of Memphis, Coleman was educated by the Christian Brothers, and prepared for ministry at the School of Theology at the University of the South. Coleman began his ministry in his native city in 1956, serving a curacy at St. Mary’s Cathedral, under the direction of William Sanders, who would later be elected Bishop of Tennessee.
Coleman would go on to serve five more churches in different parts of Tennessee and was Episcopal chaplain at Georgia Tech and Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. He also served a parish in Virginia and had a fruitful ministry at St. James Church in Baton Rouge, where he also assisted in retirement.
He was serving at St. John’s Church in Memphis when he was elected as Bishop Coadjutor of West Tennessee in 1993. The consecration service was held at Memphis’s Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, an African American congregation, as a sign of interracial cooperation. Coleman’s predecessor, the Rt. Rev. Alan Dickson, had recently chaired a citywide evangelistic crusade with the pastor of the church. Coleman’s former mentor, the Rt. Rev. William Evan Sanders, who had recently retired as Bishop of East Tennessee, was the preacher.
In addition to his leadership of church growth and interracial healing, Coleman worked to reinvigorate the diocese’s ministry with youth. The former college chaplain reinstated college chaplaincies across the diocese, and founded a training center for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, an interdenominational Montessori-based Christian education program at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
He and his first wife, Carter, had three sons. Coleman married again, in 2005, to Emily Douglass Stewart, who survives him. He is also survived by Bishop Sanders, his former mentor, who at age 100, is the oldest living bishop of the Episcopal Church.