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Rev. Louis Evans Jr.; Led National Presbyterian Church

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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Rev. Louis Hadley Evans Jr., 82, pastor of the powerful and well-connected National Presbyterian Church for 18 years, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Oct. 29 at his home in Fresno, Calif.

Rev. Evans, an evangelical minister who urged believers to work on social needs as well as their own relationship with God, led the Northwest Washington church from 1973 to 1991. It was a regular Sunday stop for President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, during the 1980s.

Rev. Evans promoted a four-part apostolic mandate for his church communities: Preach the Gospel and evangelize; disciple and nurture fellow believers; liberate the oppressed; and minister to the physical needs of others.

"As we seek for a balanced budget, I am concerned that we be very wise and discreet about which programs are cut. There are still great areas of human need in this country," he told The Washington Post in 1981. He called for programs that tread "the narrow ledge between a balanced budget and the provision of necessary human programs."

Rev. Evans also abhorred sexual permissiveness, which he said damages the "covenant basis of relationships," and society's "messianic, daddy-fix-it complex" that puts an unrealistic burden on political leaders.

He was one of the founders in 1977 of the Washington Aviation Ministry, now Mercy Medical Airlift, a volunteer air transport organization for church workers and missionaries. The airlift also helped the terminally ill, newborns in critical condition, people injured far from home and elderly patients who needed to be reunited with their families.

Rev. Evans was born and raised in Hollywood, Calif. After serving in the Navy in the Pacific theater during World War II, he returned to Los Angeles and graduated from Occidental College.

He had a religious awakening at a 1947 revival meeting and felt called to the ministry. He married a movie actress, Colleen Townsend, who made news in 1950 by saying she was gladly giving up her Hollywood film career to devote her life to her husband and ministry, the Los Angeles Times reported.

He received a master's degree in divinity in the early 1950s from the San Francisco Theological Seminary and did advanced course work toward a doctorate at the University of Edinburgh.

Sent to the wealthy Los Angeles community of Bel Air to help organize a new church, he began preaching in his home, and by 1963 the congregation had grown to 700 members. He was then sent to the conservative community of La Jolla, Calif., where his advocacy of racial reconciliation and open housing brought controversy and death threats, said one of his sons, Dan Evans of Seattle.

"It was as hot as it gets," his son said. "A quarter of the church congregation was aggressively opposed to open housing. A faction eventually went off and started a new church."

A decade later, Rev. Evans moved to Washington to take over the venerable National Presbyterian Church, where most American presidents have attended services and visitors have included Queen Elizabeth and Mother Teresa.

During his tenure at the church, new programs included a family camp, which became the All-Church Retreat, as well as a midweek worship and class session. The church and school facilities were expanded, and a columbarium was added.

After his retirement in 1991, Rev. Evans moved to California, where he assisted at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in the Bay Area before moving to the Central Valley town of Fresno, where another son, Jamie Evans, is senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church.

In addition to those two sons, survivors include his wife of 57 years, of Fresno; two other children, Dr. Tim Evans of Fresno and Luanda Goodrich of Atlanta; two sisters; and nine grandchildren.


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