IRVINGTON, NJ — The funeral at Newark Tech School on Saturday, Nov. 7, for Rev. Ron Christian of Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington, capped a three-day public period of mourning for the man many referred to as the “People’s Pastor.”
There was a public viewing for “Rev. Ron,” as he was called, at the church on the corner of Lyons Avenue and Nesbit Terrace from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5, with a wake later that night, with Rev. Al Sharpton preaching a sermon for the congregation members and mourners.
Christian’s remains were transported to Newark Tech on Friday, Nov. 6, where he remained from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., giving mourners another chance to pay their last respects.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka asked Christian’s wife, children and surviving family members to “please accept our sincerest condolences and prayers of comfort at this time on behalf of the residents of the city of Newark.”
“As the mayor of Newark, I wish to express my deepest sympathy for the passing of Rev. Ron Christian,” Baraka said on Tuesday, Nov. 3. “Rev. Ron was that rare spiritual messenger who was as comfortable with politicians as parishioners; who shared his talents with the gifted as well as the gang members; and, whose personal testimony inspired thousands to seek the kingdom of God. As you gather to celebrate his life, may you be comforted by the memories of the work that he did in the community and for all those whose lives he touched.”
The list of notable people and elected officials who came out to Newark Tech on Friday, Nov. 6, included U.S. Sen. and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker; actor Michael K. Williams, who is best known for his role as “Omar” on the HBO series “The Wire;” and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, who was wearing a white dress shirt, jeans and boots in honor of the pastor’s trademark unorthodox style.
Christian served as a chaplain for many years with the Essex County Sheriff’s Department prior to his death and hosted an annual 9/11 Remembrance and Memorial Service at the church to honor police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other emergency service providers, in addition to serving as a conduit for individuals who wanted to surrender themselves to law enforcement, but were afraid to do so alone.
“This is for Rev. Ron,” DiVincenzo said on Friday, Nov. 6, with regard to his own garb. “This is to honor him and to show respect for all the good things that he did in life and all the lives that he touched. He will be missed.”
Derrick Edmundson, Christian’s cousin, said he never really understood who his relative was and how many lives he touched and how well-respected and highly regarded he was until after his death, adding that the outpouring of emotion and support from so many really opened his eyes.
“I guess, from a family’s perspective, he was just my cousin; he was Ronald Bernard Christian,” Edmundson said at the wake. “He wasn’t just Rev. Ron to me. He was Ronald Bernard Christian and he was a Newark product — a little kid who just grew up in Newark, who had dreams just like every other little kid in Newark.”
Edmundson said that although his cousin “taught in Irvington, he was still a Newark product,” and that it’s important to keep that in mind, because it shows how greatness can come from humble beginnings and that Christian’s life should serve as an inspiration for other “little kids in Newark,” and anywhere else.
“Just seeing the outpouring of love from not just the community but a cross-section of people and cultures, I never knew that my cousin touched so many people and so many lives and it is just an honor and a pleasure to say that he is my family, because of all the people that he has touched,” he said. “This is a guy who was known. I saw an article the other day in the U.K. I’ve seen musical artists come in here tonight; film and TV artists come in here today. Who would have thought that a little kid from Bergen Street or Renner Avenue or Scheerer Avenue, Elizabeth Avenue would have reached this height when he had such a humble beginning? And he was my cousin.”
Edmundson said his cousin “was a winner, plain and simple.” And he said, when you look at “sports figures” or “political figures” who “win against all odds,” they are “people who are not pessimistic but extremely optimistic about the chances of success.”
He said his cousin was like that. “I would say, in life and death, he still beat the odds, because most people don’t come back from the things that he experienced in his life,” Edmundson said. “He was a breech baby; his mother was in labor for 32 hours and they told them at Beth Israel that he wasn’t supposed to live. Not only did he beat that, but he set records at Weequahic for track. Can you imagine a breech baby setting records for track?”
Edmundson said his cousin defied and beat the odds in life at every turn proving that he “had all the makings of a winner.” He said every time people told his cousin he couldn’t do something or he wouldn’t succeed, he won.
“He always beat the odds from birth,” Edmundson said. “Who would have ever thought that a little kid from Bergen Street would be sitting down with a president or have relationships with a governor or be on the board of Beth Israel hospital, when he used to sell newspapers out there. … Let’s look at how much he’s accomplished in 51 years.”
While Sharpton gave a special tribute to Christian at the funeral Saturday, Nov. 7, Christian’s eulogy was given by Sr. Pastor William D. Watley.
According to published reports, there were 2,000 mourners at the funeral, including U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr., former Gov. Jim McGreevey, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren and many more.
Additionally, more than a 1,000 people gathered outside the venue Saturday, standing in a line that stretched down West Market Street in Newark to pay their respects. Perry Funeral Home did distribute funeral programs to the crowd of mourners outside.
In a Facebook page post on Sunday, Nov. 8, Vauss wrote, “Don’t ever forget that we were not led by a saint with his heads in the clouds, but by a master tactician with his feet on the ground. He is without comparison. Regardless of your personal beliefs or religion, Ron Christian objectively influenced humanity in thought, devotion and deed, in terms of quality and quantity, more than anyone in the state of New Jersey.”
Vauss said he would miss Christian and that he found some comfort in prayer, something he said Christian would have wanted.
“When every hope is gone, when helpers fail and comforts flee, I find that worship (and) prayer are no superstitions; they are acts more real than eating, drinking, sitting or walking,” Vauss said. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. Rev. Ron’s influence was particularly the result of who he is and what he did on behalf of other people and God.”