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Clayton Crawley, 59: Embracing the Unknown

From walking El Camino de Santiago to embracing a future in retirement, ordained Episcopal minister and tech worker Clayton Crawley approaches life with an optimistic curiosity. Now a big-city resident married to his husband, and design-forward world traveler, he has come a long way from a humble farm in the Deep South, yet he still carries the rural sense of calm, self sufficiency, and that most anything is possible.

Clayton has come a long way from his rural background in deep Georgia while still embodying the easy, practical life skills he learned from his farm days. Married, gay, an ordained Episcopal minister, New Yorker, design enthusiast, and tech worker, he is far from his childhood, but his calm manner belies how near to it he remains. Only a few months from retirement and thrilled about it, he is one of those people who, when they look ahead, they smile at the challenge and possibilities of the unknown. 

Perhaps it is his massive curiosity about all things that necessitates he be  multi-faceted. There are so many elements here that could be contradictory, but, with him, all these pieces live in quiet harmony. Complexity comes across as calm and charming.

Clayton crawley

How old are you?
59 years old, in this, my year of retirement! 

Where are you from?
Born in Atlanta, Georgia but spent my childhood on my grandfather’s farm outside of Abbeville, in Deep South Georgia. Growing up on a working farm (peanuts, soy beans, corn, cotton, pigs, and cattle) set me up with some clear attitudes and perspectives: the land sustains you so take care of it; cruelty to animals or people is a thin mask for weakness; if you need something fixed, ask questions, figure it out, and fix it yourself; work hard but don’t forget that’s not the point of why we’re here.

“I count myself among the fortunate few who find their place of work fulfilling enough to sustain and challenge them across a quarter century”

What is your job?
I’m the Chief Church Relations Officer for the Church Pension Group, which is the business arm of the Episcopal Church (part of the worldwide Anglican Communion). We have provided employment benefits, insurance, and publishing for the Church for over 100 years. I’ve been working there for 25 years doing everything from Y2K preparedness and web design to running the technology group and now core client relationship management. While I thought I’d always do local parish ministry when I was ordained thirty years ago, that’s only been a small part of my career. I count myself among the fortunate few who find their place of work fulfilling enough to sustain and challenge them across a quarter century.

I understand you are about to retire. What are your plans for the next few years?
Well, I’m a planner so there are a lot of plans. That the timeframe of accomplishing them is a bit open-ended feels luxurious. The overarching theme of the plans is to make things — not sure what I’ll make, but the current spectrum is learning the lost wax method of bronze casting to figuring out how to bake a truly excellent cannelé (which I discovered, after buying the needed items to do them right, seemed not less difficult than working with bronze).

Clayton crawley

Do you feel you will still be able to be of service after you have retired?
I hope so! “I’m not dead yet,” as the Monty Python line goes. I look forward to getting involved in our local community a few hours north of New York and getting back to my pre-pandemic rhythm of taking a weekday church service. I plan to be surprised at what other opportunities there will be post retirement.

What are your fears/concerns of retirement? 
Folks ask what I fear about retirement but, as I’m not really a person that fears the unknown or unexplored, I guess the thing that scares me the most is that I’d become a person who’d take measure of things by how afraid I am.

“Having the time to simply walk and walk felt like one of the most luxurious things I’ve ever done”

Tell us about your experience of walking El Camino de Santiago?
I went with one goal: to finish the walk. Turns out the sameness of that twenty-nine day walk was glorious and freeing. Any thoughts I might have had of being bored disappeared into the routine of the day — having the time to simply walk and walk felt like one of the most luxurious things I’ve ever done.

I didn’t do a typical walk in that I carried my pack the entire way and walked in silence 90% of the time. It was centering, fulfilling, and invigorating. The walk was not as hard as I thought it would be, even with a meniscus tear along the way. And collapsing on some stairs in Burgos Cathedral did create a rather dramatic memory.

I stayed in small hotel rooms along the way after one night in an albergue (typically shared bathrooms and sleeping in bunk beds in a common area) reminded me that even in my twenties I had decided that I sleep better with a bit more environmental control. Just like everything else, there’s an app for all parts of the Camino experience so choosing where to stay and how far to walk each day was stress-free. 

Friends who had done the Camino had said that conversations with total strangers go deep very fast on the walk and this was true. It’s remarkable how attentive and caring people were for each other as they walked and talked beside each other for an hour or a day or a week.

Clayton crawley, superage quiz

“I believe that God built creation to be joyful, playful, and full of love”

What is your view on joy? And how does that sit with your religious teaching?
I believe that God built creation to be joyful, playful, and full of love. While I grew up in a very different Christian tradition, I became an Episcopalian in college. It was in this religious environment that I discovered God desired us to live and love and laugh alongside Jesus and to learn that we make our lives cheaper and quite sad when we love only for ourselves and disregard others.

How do you sense God in your life?
Well, occupational hazard, I guess, but the liturgy of the church and the Eucharist (that’s the bread and wine part) is where I feel most connected to God. Music is a great conduit whether it be a Charles-Marie Widor or Sufjan Stevens – I’m also likely to be whistling something as I’m puttering around the house or taking the stairwell at work to my next meeting.

Clayton crawley

How are you taking care of your health?
I fast twice a week during Lent; that’s an excellent body reset. For most of my adult life, I was at the gym three times a week but the pandemic messed that up, that cycle. (Another retirement project of mine is getting that one back on track.) Finally, I’ve lived in Manhattan for a quarter century so walking is lifegiving and wonderful.

How do you handle stress?
My coach of nearly 20 years says that I need to remember to breathe. She’s a wise woman and I do try to follow her advice! Remembering not to transfer my stress to anyone else is the handle I sometimes can’t find, but then we’re back to remembering to breathe.

How long have you been married?
I’ve been married to Roy Kim since September 23, 2011 — so, a dozen fantastic years! We met on Match.com just after they realized that the gays existed. Turns out you never know what in those long dating profiles will win the day, and I am so glad my rather esoteric design magazine subscriptions caught Roy’s eye because, as he later admitted, my profile photos were pretty bad.

“New Yorkers are resilient and shockingly caring for others”

What do you love about NYC?
I actually love that everything is available but nothing is convenient. New Yorkers are resilient and shockingly caring for others. If you’ve ever fallen on a slippery street in NYC, you’ll have at least five people to help you up and check that you’re OK before disappearing back into the churn of the day. I also love those random New Yorkers that help get the strollers up and down the subway steps — expecting nothing in return but a smile and a nod from the mom who knows someone in the City sees her and took the time to offer a hand.

What do you love about upstate NY?
Our house looks across the Hudson Valley from the foothills of the Berkshires – the sunsets over the Catskills are stunning. Glorious to behold and wonderfully made!

Is there community there? Do you grow things? What is your relationship to nature?
The community in Columbia County is a quirky upstate blend of multi-generational local families and recent New York City imports that finds enough balance to maintain its rural charms without falling victim to the populist politics of hate that plagues so much of life in the US. Roy and I have a couple of favorite walks that remind us to be glad we have a place in such a community.

How do you meet new people?
I’m pretty much an introvert so Roy ensures that I meet lots of interesting folks in his architect/designer circles (yes, I’m that spouse that comes to work events and loves to learn about what my husband does with his days). Though introverted, I’m not shy, so I will strike up a conversation with just about anyone about any topic — most recently talking to a building engineer in my mom’s apartment building about isolation bolts and offset studs on a 6-inch wall to manage some sound abatement. 

“For my 50th birthday, Roy took me to Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands”

Where have you traveled to that you most enjoyed?
For my 50th birthday, Roy took me to Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands — the trip was majestic and magical in every way!

Why, what did you see? What did you learn?
Taking some time to meditate together one morning at Machu Picchu before the crowds arrived and swimming with seals and penguins just off a beach in the Galápagos were just a few of the memorable moments. It was inspirational to travel to some of the same islands where The Beagle had taken Darwin as he began his work on evolution.

Where are you planning to travel to next?
Short term is a trip to Scottsdale for a weekend with Roy as a tag onto a business trip. Longer term, we have our eyes on Antarctica, probably because of our experience with the Galápagos Islands. Turns out that our peripatetic ways tend towards places both beautifully remote and singular from a historical and scientific perspective.

We understand you have a fondness for cars. Is there one you have your eye on?
Oh yes, the Neue Klasse BMW X3 Electric. That’s our next car. Very exciting vehicle from what little has been released about it. Roy helps keep my automotive desires somewhat reasonable.

“I think my fondness of cars tracks right back to growing up on the farm”

I think my fondness of cars tracks right back to growing up on the farm. From those first memories of sitting in my grandad’s lap and ‘helping him’ drive around the farm to being the pre-teen in the back of the F150 laughing loudly and holding on for dear life as we barrelled though the cornfields heading off to catch some catfish after the day’s chores were done. 

What are your guilty pleasures?
My favorite drink is a Vieux Carré (we found this one on a trip to New Orleans) and salty, crunchy, spicy snacks do not last long when I’m around!

What are your rituals?
Doing a 20-minute silent meditation followed by daily prayers helps start every day with some center place. 

What are the 3 non-negotiables in your life?
Technology, Travel, & Truth (these things always need be alliterative for some reason).

Where technology is used most broadly as any practical application of knowledge. We have a prayer that gives thanks we have been blessed with ‘memory, reason, and skill’ which I’ve always thought was a great definition of technology.

Images of Clayton by David Harry Stewart.

Connect with Clayton:
LinkedIn
Church Pension Group

See medical disclaimer below. ↓

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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.

AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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