Rain-filled clouds hung a little low over St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City, but church members, family and friends gathered for a memorial service and street-naming ceremony in honor of their late pastor, the Rev. Dr. Philip Clarke Jr., did not let the weather dampen their spirits.
St. Matthews, 6100 N.W. 24th Ave., Miami, was packed with those who remember the gentle pastor who had a ready smile and kind words for all he met. Clarke died on Feb. 2, 2011.
The idea for the stree-naming ceremony, which took place Jan. 29, came from the Rev. Mark Trimmings, one of the church's associate pastors who knew Clarke for more than 35 years.
"I am so happy that I got to know Pastor Clarke on a one-on-one basis,” Trimmings said. “We spent a lot of time together just getting to know each other. I soon learned that he was a man of passion, as well as compassion. He cared about the people both physically and spiritually. He was concered about the elderly, as well as the children. He used to say that, inspite of the difficulties you face, you can make it."
Trimmings said he didn't know it at the time but there was something in him that his pastor saw, "… something that I couldn't see.”
“Pastor Clarke saw my inner issue of not being able to release the guilt from my past,” he said. “He prayed with me and taught me how to turn everything over to God, to let go and let God have His way. He told me that was the only way for me to have a sincere relationship with God. It is because of his guidance that I am where I am today, spiritually equipped with the Word of God and able to accept people as they are, who they are and where they are."
Trimmings said when he was thinking of a way for the church to honor the memory of his late pastor, he fasted and prayed and asked the Lord to show him what to do and the street-naming was the result.
"In the 42 years he served as pastor of this church, Pastor Clarke has served five or six generations of families. He deserves this honor," Trimmings said.
The street-naming ceremony was accompanied by a memorial service filled with song and the preaching of the Rev. Franklin Clark (no relation to Clarke), pastor of Mt. Olivette Missionary Baptist Church in Overtown. His sermon topic was "My Servant."
In his sermon, Clark described the late pastor as a righteous man and a servant of God, adding, “As such, he realized that he had a charge to keep. He was on the batlefield for his Lord and serving the Lord would pay off after a while."
Calling him "a true servant of God," Clark encouraged the congregation to praise the Lord as he had done. "The joy of the Lord is our strength," he said.
"When God's servant dies, God doesn't die and He wants you to rise up to his [Clarke's] successor," he said, referring to the Rev. Warren Clarke, son of the late pastor, who now serves as the church's spiritual leader.
"You have a man here that you have chosen and that the church has sanctioned," Clark said.
The new pastor Clarke said through tears, "We will never forget you, Daddy. It broke our hearts to lose you but you did not go alone; a part of us went with you on the day God called you home."
And the street-naming ensures that the late pastor is remembered in a visible manner. Road signs were installed naming a stretch of Northwest 61st Street, from Northwest 27th to 22nd avenues, for Clarke.
Photo: Philip Clarke Jr.