Written by Bennett Guess
The Rev. Joseph H. Evans, the UCC's third president, died on April 12 at his Sarasota, Fla., home. He was 92.
Evans, the first and only African American to serve as UCC president, spent 17 years as an elected officer of the denomination. First elected in 1967 as national secretary, he was elected president of the UCC in 1976 upon the sudden death of President Robert Moss. In 1977, he returned to his position as secretary, a post he held until his retirement in 1983.
"Joe was a leading figure in the middle years of our denomination's life," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, in a memo to national staff. "… Our work rests on the legacy of great leaders like him."
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Evans' death came on the same day as nearly 300 members and staff of the UCC's Executive Council and four Covenanted Ministries boards of directors were gathered for joint meetings in Cleveland. Thomas and Associate General Minister Edith A. Guffey led the assembly in a time of reflection and prayer after sharing news of Evans' passing.
Though Evans' health had been in decline, he was able to attend the UCC's 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford last June.
Born in Kalamazoo, Mich., Evans grew up in Chicago. He was a graduate of Western Michigan University, Yale University Divinity School and UCC-related Chicago Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1942.
Following a brief period as the leader of a church mission serving immigrants from Barbados in Brooklyn, N.Y., Evans served as the pastor of Grace Congregational Church in Harlem, where he met and married his wife, Harriette. The two were married for 63 years and had three daughters.
Early in his ministry, Evans served as associate general secretary for the Connecticut Council of Churches, where he ministered to migrant farm workers and youth. He went on to lead Mount Zion Congregational UCC in Cleveland, before returning to pastor his home church, Church of the Good Shepherd UCC in Chicago, where he also served a four-year term as president of the Chicago Urban League. Upon retirement, he continued to serve as interim pastor at several churches in Ohio, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Memorial contributions can be sent to the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1031 S. Euclid Ave., Sarasota, FL 34237; or the Resurrection House Inc., 507 Kumquat Court, Sarasota, FL 34236; or the United Black Christians, United Church of Christ, c/o Carol Brown, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115.