Rev. Clay Evans, a gospel preacher and musical legend who inspired souls for decades, was eulogized Dec. 7 during a six-hour celebration in Chicago that featured many of the spiritual and political titans of Black America.
Together, people from many walks of life sang “To God Be The Glory,” in honor of a singer and preacher born in Brownsville, Tennessee, who moved to Chicago and, through intellect and faith, brought people in a racially torn city together. Bishop TD Jakes noted this point in a video message shown at the service.
Evans, who died Nov. 27 at the age of 94, was the founder of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago. But he was more than ministry and pews. He became a powerful voice in the civil rights movement, during a time when generations of African Americans flocked from the cotton fields of the South to big cities in the industrial North that became the mecca of Black pride and economic opportunity.
The service at Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Church brought together dignitaries such as former Chicago Mayor Richard Daly, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Minister Louis Farrakhan and a big choir loft filled with gospel legends from Rev. Shirley Caesar to Pastor Milton Biggham.
“Over the course of his incredible, five-decade career leading the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Evans tirelessly sought to uplift the lives of his parishioners and fellow residents through service and support,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a statement.
Evans was so much more than a pastor of more than 50 years, he was a conductor on a gospel train that ran from the South to North picking up weary pilgrims who used his music to find joy and encouragement.
He released his first musical project in 1984, “What He’s Done For Me” on Savoy Records. While he would continue to record albums in his later years, he was best known for selections in which he sang and ministered in a troubled city that considered him as an elder.
Caesar stirred up people at the service with a searing rendition of the hymnal “Never Grow Old,” but not before paying tribute to Evans.
“I wanted to be here. I just had to be here,” the 12-time Grammy winner said before singing. “I met Rev. Clay Evans when I was 19 years old. He was my friend.”
Jackson, whom Evans ordained at Fellowship in 1968, said his death was heartbreaking. In the 1960s, Evans provided much of the support for Jackson to launch Operation Breadbasket and the Rainbow Push Coalition.
Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) called Evans “a prophet, a priest, and a pastor,” while former Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “When he spoke, his voice was heard in Chicago and echoed across America, and we are a better city and nation for it.”
Dr. Lou Dela Evans Reid directed a large choir dressed in white during the funeral, at which a number of ministers preached and sang under the Rev. Charles Jenkins, who became the pastor of Fellowship after Evans grew ill.
Farrakhan sounded more like a Baptist preacher than the leader of the Nation of Islam as he talked about Evans and Jesus Christ in the same tribute. In addition to Farrakhan and political speakers, there were musical legends such as Bishop Paul S. Morton, who all came with a song.
During the funeral, Jackson made a few comments before he allowed his son Jonathan Jackson to speak. But before he sat down Jackson said, “If he can give us 94 years, we can give him a day.”