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Chicago’s souls have been his priority

CHICAGO (BP)–Marvin G. Parker remembers the afternoon he went looking for a game of basketball but instead found Clarence Hopson — the young African American pastor who towered over the 12-year-old boy in his friend’s kitchen.

“My friend Alvin introduced us, we looked at each other for a second and then I thought, ‘Oh no, here comes the question,'” said Parker, whose friend happened to be the nephew of a man notorious for his care for the human soul.

“Do you know Christ as your Savior?”

Throughout a career of more than 40 years that felt the winds of racial change sweep through the Windy City and settle on its churches, Hopson was defined as a man set on seeing lives turned to Christ. So Parker somewhat expected “Uncle C.W.” (as Hopson was known by some) to pose the question, which Parker couldn’t answer well until years later when he accepted Christ in the reverend’s church.

“Even if he came across you on his way from the car to the church, he’d ask you where you’d go if you died, whether Christ was your Savior and whether you go to church anywhere,” said Parker, that preteen who later turned pastor and has served with Hopson the last two decades.

Parker recently was voted in as pastor of Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in Broadview, Ill. — the church from which Clarence Hopson retired as pastor on May 27.

Clarence Hopson stepped into Broadview Missionary Baptist Church when it was still the Broadview Mission, a church start of the Northwest Baptist Convention meeting in the offices of the Chicago Metro Baptist Association. For Chicago’s black Christian community, the early 1970s were a time when crucial decisions were being shaped about how they’d operate in the new era spawned by the civil rights movement.

The young pastor, a Moody Bible Institute graduate of one month, is rumored to have walked across the street to a playground where he began sharing the Gospel. “That’s how adults started to come to the church,” so the legend goes. “Through their children.”

Hopson laughs when he hears stories like this about himself. “When you serve at a place as long as I have, it’s amazing the stories that circulate about you.” But tales of the Hopson pastorate consistently paint a picture of the spirit Hopson imbued in Broadview — the spirit of a man who treated everyone equally, shared His life in Christ with everyone he met and stuck to principle.

“He is contagious,” said Ken Ellis, director of black church evangelism for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. “The first thing you see is his immense physique and that huge smile.” Ellis has known Hopson since 1987 when Ellis worked at a church in the Chicago Metro Baptist Association. “He’s big in stature, but his demeanor is very humble and approachable.”

Hopson is as strong-willed, though, as he is approachable, as is attested by family, fellow pastors, friends and by the local newspaper Suburban Life. When the Broadview Village Board denied a request for Broadview Missionary Baptist to begin construction on a new building, the newspaper quoted him as saying, “You think you’re fighting us, but you are fighting someone bigger than all of us, and his name is Jehovah. You can’t win because you’re fighting God.”

The building program remained on track, and Broadview would grow to its present 2,000-plus members. With this growth came the church’s impact on the Broadview community.

Through prison Bible studies and church services, Broadview reaches the Cook County Jail and the Sheridan Correction Facility. The church sends young people to college through the Broadview Baptist Church Scholarship Committee founded 1984. Through homework ministries, holiday outreach events, various types of mission education such as Royal Ambassadors and the church’s commitment to other outreach, the Broadview family has responded to Hopson’s desire to be an Acts 1:8, outward-focused congregation.

“Clarence lives a life full of joy,” said Thomas Hammond, a friend of Hopson’s and senior director of church evangelism at the North American Mission Board. “He lives a life of joy found in Jesus and he desires everyone he comes in contact with to experience that joy found in a life with Christ.”

In stepping down from the pastorate, Hopson will leave a legacy of an African American church leader who spanned a racial divide simply by seeking to do what God told him to do. An African American pastor joining a white denomination sparked criticism from fellow pastors, but 35 annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Annual Convention later, Hopson has led his church in a way that makes race a non-issue.

“A lot of my friends called me Oreo because I was Southern Baptist and I was African American — you know, black on the outside but white on the inside,” Hopson said.

But in three decades Hopson never missed an SBC annual meeting, always sat on the front row and, white or black, treated everyone equally.

“When I was called to Broadview I had no intention of staying with the Southern Baptists,” Hopson said. “But there was ministry Southern Baptists were doing that nobody else was doing. So I went to my first Southern Baptist Convention in 1974 and I’ve been with the convention ever since.”
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine, published by the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

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  • Adam Miller