The Crusader Newspaper Group

Tribute to a Genuine Man of God Rev. Clay Evans

By Rev. Dr. Janette C. Wilson

Words seem so inadequate at this moment as I pause to reflect on the impact that Rev. Clay Evans has made on my life, my family and thousands of others. He was my spiritual father in every way. His genuine love, discipline and compassion was like having God present in the flesh. Rev. Evans was a counselor, supporter, mentor, spiritual parent, and pastor.

Let me first thank his wife and children for sharing him with all of us. I have never met such a loving, caring and humble family. The love they shared with Rev. Evans in these last years of his life is unmeasurable. Their faithfulness and sacrifice of time and talent serves as a model of what a family is all about. Rev. Evans believed in unconditional support and giving everyone an opportunity to serve and use their gifts. He helped raise and supported countless children in the church whose parents were unable to provide adequately for them.

Rev. Evans was counterculture and cutting edge in every aspect of his ministry: He was the first Baptist Pastor to license and ordain a woman as a Baptist minister and later installed her as pastor of Christway Baptist Church. Rev. Evans stood firmly on issues he believed in, especially issues that brought the interfaith community together, participating in interfaith gatherings and diverse ecumenical worship experiences. He baptized Jeff Forte, a known “gang member”, and he participated in the March on Washington, and in later years the Million Man March. Rev. Evans introduced non-traditional Gospel music into Fellowship MB Church when tambourines, guitars and other instruments were not used in Baptist churches. It is difficult to imagine a man of his generation who was raised in the Baptist tradition, standing with Dr. King when it was not popular. Rev. Evans and Dr. A.R. Leak integrated Oakwood Cemetery long before the late Mayor Washington was buried there.

Rev. Evans licensed me to preach and ordained me as the second woman he ordained 40 years after he ordained Rev. Mother Consuella York, and later hosted my graduation from divinity school at Fellowship MB Church. He allowed my husband and I to became his personal lawyers resulting in the transfer of his legal work from a majority firm, Sonnenschein, to our small firm, Wilson, Howard P.C. We negotiated his entertainment contracts and incorporated his various entities. My husband, Rodney became his travel buddy including trips from Brownsville, Tennessee to Bophuthatswana, to Johannesburg, South Africa.  He blessed my daughter, Naima a few months after she was born, and gave a prayer of consecration and dedication remarks at the ceremony where she received her license to practice law.

I wish I had the ability to share all of the wonderful things I learned from Rev. Evans. He reminds me of the prophet Amos. Like Amos, he was called by God out of rural poverty, not from a lineage of preachers, but from a place of intense segregation. He was not from Brownsville, per se, he and his siblings were raised on a small farm near a place called Nutbush, Tennessee (where farmers went to weigh cotton and sell their vegetables). Rev. Evans was like other children who were born to parents who were Black small farmers or were sharecroppers eking out a living. These children went to the one room elementary school in the church, and then later to the one high school in Brownsville in between planting and harvesting seasons. Rev. Evans’ prophetic and pastoral ministry was shaped by the impact of racial segregation, Jim Crow laws, and the economic challenges faced by Blacks in rural Tennessee and the discrimination they experienced whenever they visited the town known as Brownsville, Tennessee, or the “big city of Memphis.”

At other times he seemed more akin to David, the Psalmist. Many of Rev. Evans’ sermons came from the book of Psalms. He was not a singing preacher, but a preacher who could sing. He preached countless sermons from Psalms, and taught us how to cope with the challenges of life through the reading of Psalms and listening to some of his memorable selections: “Reach Past The Break and Hold On,” “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” “All Night the Angels Keep Watching,” or “There is Room at the Cross for You.”

Rev. Dr. Clay Evans believed that pastors should fellowship together across lines of denominational differences, thus, he formed the Broadcast Ministers Alliance of Chicago.  Later, Rev. Evans felt that faith leaders should have an organization where they produced their own records, published their own books, made their own robes and other religious attire, and own their own radio and television stations. He often said “we should own the air not just be on the air that somebody else owns” therefore, he formed the African American Religious Connection (AARC) and bought a radio station in South Carolina. He led broadcasting clergy in Chicago to invest in cable television when it first came to the Chicago market. He made a bid to purchase radio station WJPC, he invested in radio station WVON, and was one of the first pastors to record his own music and choir.

Rev. Evans was pastoral, prophetic, and engaged in fighting for the best interests of the broader community. He was a staunch supporter of education, so he established the Rev. Clay Evans Scholarship fund to help “C” students go to college. He, along with Bishop Arthur Brazier, Revs. Addie and Claude Wyatt, formed the African American Leadership Partnership program to provide seminary education for African American pastors in Chicago under the supervision of Rev. Dr. Leon D. Finney Jr.

Rev. Evans has joined our ancestors in the embrace of God, therefore, as Rev. Evans taught us, we would often say in our greeting…“I will bless the Lord Oh my Soul and all that is within me, bless His holy name…”

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