The Reverend Dr. James Burton Gayler went home to The Lord on March 1, 2014 after a long and courageous fight with cancer. Jim, as he was known to all, was born on February 19, 1930 in a small farmhouse outside Ft. Lauderdale to Chester Burton Gayler and Sadie Mae Gayler. He spent his formative years on the farm west of Boynton where he attended elementary school, and summers on the homestead family farm near Lyerly, Georgia. At the age of 14, he went off to school at Emory University Academy in Oxford, Georgia. While at Emory, he gave his life to Christ and was called to preach the gospel at age 15 and graduated from high school in 1946. Jim accomplished a 4-year high school course of study at Oxford in just two years then attended both Emory Junior College in Valdosta for his AA degree and Emory University in Atlanta where he graduated with his BA in 1948. During and after his high school and college work, Jim served several churches - pastoring his first at age 16 - then attended the Candler School of Theology at Emory graduating in 1953 with a Master of Divinity degree. Jim is one of only a few persons who attended four different schools - high school through graduate work - within the Emory University system. During his time at Candler, he served as summer youth pastor at Reeves Memorial Methodist Church in Orlando, Florida where he met his wife to be, Betty Ann Hathaway. They were married at Reeves on September 6, 1951 and welcomed their first son David in December of 1952. Jim then furthered his education in ministry by attending Asbury Seminary in Wilmore Kentucky and in 1955 Jim and Betty welcomed their second son Stephen.
Jim joined the Florida Methodist Conference in 1954 and from that time until his retirement from full time ministry in 1994, he and Betty served churches throughout Florida in town and cities like Pinetta, Mt. Pleasant, Carrabelle, Ft. Lauderdale, Lakeland, Orlando, Union Park, Jasper, Coral Park-Miami, Gainesville, Belleview, Ocala, and DeBary. During their time at Union Park Methodist Church in the early 1960's, Jim and Betty welcomed their third child, daughter Joy Annette, in August of 1964. While serving the Wesley Methodist Church congregation in Gainesville, Jim completed his doctorate at Luther Rice Seminary and was awarded the Doctor of Ministry degree in 1977.
Jim was a builder of churches and congregations and in 1958-59 he founded the Youth for Christ ministry in Ft. Lauderdale. Jim was also the founding pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Gainesville, a church that now flourishes and grows just as he envisioned while knocking on doors to develop membership around west Gainesville in the early 1980's. Jim's ministry over his 40 years of serving The Lord in churches all around Florida was centered on his philosophy of service beyond self. He was singularly committed to serving congregations that needed help, needed growth, or needed a new infusion of God's Word. He always requested to be assigned to churches in need, rather than larger or thriving churches. His personal and spiritual gain was the knowledge that he was serving The Lord and helping others in the way God intended. Jim and Betty's ministry over those 40 years is recognized and treasured by all whom they served and resulted in many hundreds of people giving their lives to Christ and serving their churches and communities as God's ambassadors.
While in his retirement Jim took the pastorship at several churches in Osteen, DeLeon Springs, and Oxford and served them faithfully until his health required him to slow down a bit. Even then, he would preach at any church if asked during a pastor's absence and call on and visit members as if he were a 21 year old again. He believed in "putting feet to your prayers" and wore out hundreds of pairs of shoes going door to door visiting church members and non-members in the communities he served. His engaging country smile, remarkable ability to genuinely connect with people and his relentless drive to knock on doors and call on those in need set Jim apart from many. The Lord has welcomed into Heaven a good and faithful servant, a humble farm boy who served The Lord with all his might. He was deeply loved and respected by all who knew him and he will be missed greatly by his family and the many friends he made along his memorable life journey.
Jim is survived by his loving wife of over 62 years, Betty; his son David and his wife Winnie and their 3 year old daughter, his granddaughter, Josephine; his son Stephen; his daughter Joy and her husband Les Wise; his brother Bill of Boynton Beach; his brother Bob of Baltimore; and his sister JoAnn of Oregon.
Funeral services will be held on Saturday, March 22 at 2 PM - viewing at 1 PM - at the Oxford United Methodist Church in Oxford, Florida. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Oxford United Methodist Church or The Florida United Methodist Children's Home. Information at

Funeral Home

Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services
910 E Silver Springs Blvd Ocala, FL 34470
(352) 629-7171

Published in Ocala Star-Banner from Mar. 22 to Mar. 23, 2014