The Newark Church of Christ hasn’t changed locations since the 1960s. But on July 11, the New Jersey church’s stately brick building had a new address — South 14th and Dr. Eugene Lawton Way.
Family of the Newark Church of Christ’s longtime minister, who died March 12, gathered with church members and city officials to unveil a street sign in honor of Lawton. The evangelist was known for his extensive bowtie collection, sharp suits and Scripture-packed sermons.
“With all of the things that have been going on on this corner, we can now say, ‘Wait a minute! Dr. Lawton is watching,’” said Newark City Council member Louise Roundtree.
Mikki Taylor, an editor for Essence magazine and a longtime member of the Newark congregation, said that the road renaming was “a tribute to a man that God had on the front lines. Brother Lawton was a hurricane for the gospel of Christ (and) was a force for souls.”
“Here in the City of Newark, he was not only in the church for 60-plus years, but he served the community, he linked arms with politicians. As the Bible says, he didn’t bury his talent, he multiplied it. He multiplied everything that God put at his door for the cause of Christ.”
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Those assembled for the ceremony sang “I am a hard-fighting soldier on the battlefield” and other hymns. For members of Lawton’s family, it was a bittersweet experience.
“I went from planning his birthday party to planning his funeral in two months,” said Kathy Lawton, the youngest of his three children. Lawton had turned 85 in January.
When Eugene Lawton began working with the Newark congregation in the early 1960s, it had nine members. About 350 Christians worship with the congregation now.
One of them is Iris Polk-KuKu, a self-described “transplant” who moved from Houston to New Jersey to work in the insurance industry.
The Newark Church of Christ “was well-fitting, like a glove, for me,” she said. “It gave me a purpose … to utilize my talents.”
In addition to his work in Newark, Lawton spoke from pulpits and at conferences around the globe. He influenced countless lives through works including the Northeastern Youth Conference, which he founded.
Following the street-naming ceremony, the Newark church hosted a fellowship meal and afternoon service featuring evangelists David Lane, longtime minister for the Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas, and James Michael Crusoe of the Arlington Road Church of Christ in Hopewell, Va. Attendees shared their favorite stories and memories of brother Lawton.
For grandson Dymil Betts, it was a lot to digest.
“The stories about my grandfather are amazing, but it’s kind of in the past tense,” Betts said. “But he is not gone.
“There is a quote that says people don’t die unless you stop speaking of their memory. Amazingly, my grandfather is not just known throughout my family but through all of you.”
This story was originally published by The Christian Chronicle.
Hamil R. Harris is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland College Park and senior contributor at ReligionUnplugged. He is also minister at the Glenarden Church of Christ and a police chaplain. A longtime reporter, Harris contributes to outlets such as The Washington Post, USA Today, The Christian Chronicle and the Washington Informer.