Not just another Sunday service at ‘The Ship’

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REV. DR. CLAY EVANS sits back in a cushy leather chair, seemingly reflecting on his longevity and an esteemed legacy. Rev. Evans was Fellowship’s founder and patient servant of God, as he waited seven years for the church building to be erected, after construction was halted by the late Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1966, because Evans had embraced Dr. Martin Luther King’s Chicago visit.

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

The sanctuary of Fellowship M.B. Church was packed to the rafters—from the main floor to the balcony—this past Sunday, the day after its founder the Rev. Dr. Clay Evans was laid to rest after his death at the age of 94 in late November.

I wasn’t able to attend the funeral but watched with excitement and reverence on television. I am no longer a member of “The Ship.” I joined in 1999 just as Rev. Evans was retiring and Pastor Charles Jenkins was coming in, and I left in 2016. But as the saying goes, “Once a Shipite, always a Shipite.” Given this, I was compelled to visit on December 8, if only to pay my own personal respects for a preacher to whom I grew up listening, even if he was not physically in the sanctuary.

It’s a good thing that I know the lay of the land around the church building, because there was nary a parking spot to be found. However, I know the secret spots facing the Dan Ryan Expressway, and there was one just big enough for my car to squeeze into to make the 10:00 a.m. service.

The Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson Sr. sat in for a few minutes and gave thanks for Rev. Evans’ spiritual and personal leadership. He spoke of his many years in the Civil Rights Movement and how when Evans embraced him into the Fellowship family, Evans didn’t know much about Rev. Jackson. But soon, Rev. Evans realized the importance of social activism as well as spiritual salvation. Rev. Evans would later ordain Rev. Jackson and help him form Operation PUSH.

He further talked about being the “second,” so to speak as it concerned Pastor Jenkins taking over Fellowship. “It’s hard being a junior. That’s why most juniors fail because they resent their daddies and are not appreciative of the sacrifices of the father. [But] God will keep blessing Jenkins because he blessed the prophet [Rev. Evans].”

Pastor Jenkins was grateful for his time at Fellowship. “Our founder is in Heaven, but we have leadership here on earth,” he said. “I’m leaving the role but I have his [Sharpe’s] back. Evans had mine, and I have his.” Jenkins talked about when Evans was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given six months to live back in 2000. “He started planning his funeral then, and the church body started praying and fasting.”

Rev. Jackson said that Rev. Evans never forsook him in all the years that they have known each other—even through all his trials. “It’s a tough season, and many have half a faith and want a whole blessing. Others swim in blessings and drown in complaints.”

REV. REGINALD W. SHARPE JR., Associate Pastor of Fellowship, will be installed as the lead pastor at the beginning of 2020. Rev. Sharpe hails from Lithonia, Georgia, a product of The Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church. (Photos: Fellowship Chicago website)

Indeed there is a new season afoot at Fellowship, and incoming leader, the Rev. Reginald W. Sharpe Jr., who will be installed at the beginning of 2020, gave thanks for his opportunity and all the things that Jenkins accomplished in 19 years. He also looked at the promise of a new start.

Pastor Jenkins coming after Rev. Evans was akin to someone attempting to come after Aretha, or Jordan or Tiger [Woods], in that it seemed a formidable task. “The weight on Jenkins has been astronomical, but God strengthened him. It took strength to follow Evans. It takes strength to be a preacher,” Sharpe said.

He said he is committed to doing God’s will for Fellowship. “As long as God says ‘well done and you’ve been a good pastor,’ I don’t care what no Negro says.” He continued: “Everybody in this room should be shouting because you’re living in a second opinion. If God is pleased, it doesn’t matter what other folks say.”

ELAINE HEGWOOD BOWEN, a former Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church member, and current member Tara Brown pose for a photo after a spirit-filled Sunday morning service at “The Ship.” The sanctuary was packed on the Sunday after the Rev. Dr. Clay Evans was laid to rest at Burr Oak Cemetery on December 7. The Rev. Evans founded the legendary Chicago church in 1950 and was an instrumental figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the city. The Rev. Reginald Sharpe Jr. will become the lead pastor in 2020, succeeding Pastor Charles Jenkins. The two of them, along with Rev. Evans, are now known as the “living trilogy” at Fellowship. (Photo courtesy of Tara Brown)

Member Tara Brown is excited about the new season at Fellowship, and she thoroughly enjoyed the services on Sunday. Her advice for the church and members: “Move full speed ahead, and don’t let anyone stop you or keep you from the ‘Man’ up above.” After sitting next to Brown, she seemed to me to be spirit filled, and she has encouragement for others. “Let no man or woman stop your growth. Pray your way out and never become discouraged. [If you run into obstacles], dust yourself off and keep it moving.”

In a video played during the funeral, Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House seemed to sum up Rev. Evans’ life. “A giant has fallen of such magnitude that the ground is shaking all over the world. God rewarded him with an opportunity to see the fruits of his labor.”

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.” For book info, editor91210@yahoo.com.

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