This week’s column is in tribute to Rev. Clay Evans, civil rights leader and founder of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church who died this week at 94.
Pastor. There once was a time when that word alone was held sacred. A time when being a pastor was not a vocation but a calling. Not so much a profession as a confession of the faith and purpose held by those divinely called to the ministry of servant leadership.
Some men like the Rev. Dr. Clay Evans are, for me, a reminder of those times. A time before mega church mania and the saturation of ear-tickling prosperity doctrine. A reminder of an old-time church bathed in the old-time way.
A time when the majestic sound of a Hammond organ flowed through the sanctuary and helped usher in the Spirit of the Lord as we gathered to worship in the beauty of holiness, and we sang:
“It is no secret what God can do, what he’s done for others, He’ll do for you.”
I can still hear Rev. Clay Evans’ melodic raspy tenor voice, resonating over the broadcast airwaves live from the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church of Chicago.
And we sang: “What a fellowship, what a joy divine. Leaning on the everlasting arms…”
I never shall forget Clay Evans and the sound of the old ‘Ship…
It is a reminder of the men — and women — who embraced that sacred calling at a time when the role of pastor, particularly in the African American community, entailed wearing the hat of community leader, public servant, spiritual counselor, social advocate and speaking truth to power.
Pastor. It was a weighty and perhaps unenviable mission — sacred and monumental. And yet, I have observed, both up close and from afar, men who accepted the call. Men like my grandfather, Rev. George A. Hagler. Men like my father-in-law, Rev. William H. Copeland Jr. Men like Rev. Clay Evans. Men cut from the same cloth.
Not-for-sale. Possessing a deeply divine understanding that the Gospel is too precious and time too short. Bearing the cross amid their human frailty. Pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Imperfect men called for such a time.
Theirs is a legacy of righteousness — of fortitude, faithfulness, and love, sometimes in the bitter face of racism, discrimination and menacing hate. A legacy of persistence, perseverance, and posterity.
They subscribed to a living faith rooted in God and in the understanding that God uses human vessels — ordinary people — to do extraordinary things. In this generation, when self-sacrificial servant leadership seems so severely lacking, theirs is a legacy of being reachable, touchable, approachable, accessible and involved, purveyors of a social Gospel that seeks to save human souls and heal the human condition.
To build community rather than buildings alone that pale in comparison to that most precious of sanctuaries: the human soul.
“…How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:15
This is the legacy of Rev. Clay Evans.
You didn’t have to be a member of the ‘Ship, or personally know Clay Evans, to witness the aura of a good and godly man who moved about with a sense of divine purpose and holy sophistication, and yet, with unflinching commitment to making an earthly difference.
When Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1964 warned black preachers not to allow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak from their pulpits or else face political repercussions, Evans did not succumb to Daley’s intimidation. He invited Dr. King to preach at Fellowship.
He chose truth, love, community. He chose what was good and right.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Evans chose to stand unflinching, holding sacred the divine call to be a pastor.
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