‘Gospel Trumpet’ Eugene Lawton dies at 85
Eugene Lawton, a longtime minister and renowned evangelist among Churches…
NEWARK, N.J. — For 56 years, evangelist Eugene Lawton barnstormed across the country to preach the Gospel. During my sophomore year at Florida State University, I heard him preach at the Florida Evangelism Seminar in St. Petersburg.
“Let me sound my trumpet!” boomed Lawton, repeating his famous phrase that sparked shouts of “Amen” and laughter in an arena filled with college students and young professionals. But Lawton’s message was no laughing matter. His mission was to preach the Gospel so hard that a sinful soul would be compelled to be saved.
When the event was over, I found my way to the stage to shake his hand. And in the years that followed, I kept up with this preacher from Newark, N.J., who sported fancy suits, matching bow ties and a no-nonsense Gospel. I was not alone.
The bigger-than-life St. Petersburg native became more to me than a source for many stories. He was an inspiration and a spiritual big brother who always took my calls.
Lawton, 85, died March 12 on the steps leading to his office at the Newark Church of Christ. He had just picked up evangelist Charlie McClendon from the Newark International Airport and dropped him off at his hotel.
McClendon, minister of the Northside Church of Christ in Jacksonville, Fla., preached a soul-saving workshop that went forward the next day despite Lawton’s death and two weeks later returned to offer the benediction concluding a multi-part celebration service honoring Lawton’s life.
For the days in between, the Newark congregation members never slowed down, and neither did the calls to church secretary Tonya Jones as ministers from across the country made plans to come to Newark for the memorial service that stretched over three days beginning March 25.
At the Friday afternoon session, Richard Barclay, senior minister for the Stonecrest Church of Christ in McDonough, Ga., tried to limit ministers to two minutes each. But in a sanctuary filled with nearly 100 preachers, that effort was futile. Among them were nationally known ministers Billy Washington of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Terry Wallace of Hernando, Miss.; Russell Pointer of Minneapolis; and Warren Blakney of Tulsa, Okla., along with retired minister and civil rights advocate Andrew Hairston of Atlanta.
“We have come to honor an outstanding trumpeter and minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Barclay said. “He was a friend and mentor to many of us.”
“He was rough, oh he was tough, but he was thorough and efficient,” said Bryan Coleman, a longtime Newark church leader who called Lawton his father in ministry and who was with Lawton on the steps when he died. “I prayed. I could see that a soldier had gone home”
Evangelist Jerry Houston of the Dellcrest Church of Christ in San Antonio, said, “All Doc wanted me to preach was on the church and the plan of salvation. I love the man.”
“He was scrappy, and if we are to carry the baton that he left behind, we have to start being scrappy.”
Ed Maxwell, minister for the Clinton Church of Christ in Maryland, said he came to the event because “brother Lawton set the example for so many preachers.”
Kevin Bethea, minister for the East Baltimore Church of Christ, said Lawton was more than an inspiration: “He was scrappy, and if we are to carry the baton that he left behind, we have to start being scrappy.”
But the greatest tribute came from the men and women who filled every corridor of the church building during the funeral and from those who lined the walls to pass out programs and bottles of water and bring in extra chairs for a wake and the two-part Saturday celebration that went from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Nationally known songleader and recording artist Chris Turner led the singing during the service where even one of the morticians cried. Newark church leader Terrence Wood officiated. Southwestern Christian College President Ervin D. Seamster Jr. and others offered reflections. Evangelist David Lane brought the eulogy, followed by Samuel Pounds’ message, “A Transformative Preacher.”
And when the services, burial and repast were done, Jones headed back to the church building to gather the empty water bottles and trash: “I have to get the programs ready for Sunday service.”
HAMIL R. HARRIS is a Christian Chronicle correspondent and a veteran journalist who spent two decades with the Washington Post. He preaches regularly for the Glenarden Church of Christ in Maryland.
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