Services Pending for Dr. Willie B. Jemison

CHICAGO, IL (June 5, 2011) – Services are pending for Dr. Willie B. Jemison, retired senior pastor of Oakdale Covenant Church, who died this morning (Sunday).

“Dr. Jemison’s contribution to the community, church, and the Evangelical Covenant Church is immeasurable,” said President Gary Walter upon learning the news. “He was a giant among us of faith, vision, brilliance, and persistence, traits common among genuinely transformational leaders.”

Jemison assumed the pastorate at Oakdale Covenant in 1970, retiring in 2000. Under his leadership, the congregation grew from about 25 individuals to more than 1,200 members.

More information will be published as it becomes available.


News Obituary


  • I was saddened to hear about the death of Rev Jemison. My daugher had the
    opportunity to spend the summers with her Grandmother and they would take church trips which are memorable. He always stressed to the children get a college education and she has. Prayers are for his wife who is fondly called Miss Bessie, and all of his children. My entire family here in Texas sends our sympathy.

    The Vines Family

  • Dotty and I join with so many others in giving thanks for the life and ministry of our friend Dr. Willie B. Jemison. His ministry at Oakdale is legendary. It is the story of God’s blessing and one man’s determination, faith and ability. Pastor Jemison’s contributions, however, were not only local but also regional and national. He liberally shared his gifts with the Central Conference and with the larger Covenant denomination. Over the years, he was called upon hundreds of times to speak in churches, at camps and conferences, and to other gatherings of Covenant folk. He was always generous with him time and gifts. He provided counsel and guidance to Covenant administrators as well as pastors and lay people. His genuine warmth and generosity of spirit, characterized by his big smile and gregarious personality, endeared him to us. He was instumental in supplying pastors for the Covenant, encouraging young men and women with the call of God on their lives, to pursue seminary degrees and take their place as leaders in the Covenant.
    His genersoity of spirit and love, however, did not blunt his prophetic edge. He could be tough as well as tender. He was willing to risk misunderstanding to be an advocate for justice and to say what needed to be said to the Coivenant family. He understood that racism and injustice were not only matters of the human heart but something embedded in the structures of institutions. He worked tirelessly to help our Covenant understand that and to bring about needed changes. His counsel was not always heeded. Change is often resisted and transformation comes about slowly and painfully. There were times when he was very frustrated, but always he persevered believing that God was in the business of change. I like to think that near the end of his ministry, the changes he knew were necessary if the Covenant was to be an attractive option to people of color were beginning to happen. One of his qualities that stands out is his acceptance of himself–his roots, his traditions, his heritage. He was at ease with himself. Often he reminded us, in as many words, that what you see is what you get. Although he moved among this predominantly white church with seeming comfort, he never did so at the expense of compomising his essential identity. Always he was true to himself–never trying to be someone he was not. That authenticity endeared him to us. It is difficult to sum up Jemison’s many contributions to the Evangelical Covenant Church. Perhaps it is enough to say that he was an angel, a messenger, sent by God not only to build a strong and vibrant evangleical church in one of the nation’s great urban centers but also to bring about transformation to an ethnically white denomination with historic roots in Sweden. For us he has been a light whose radiance will continue to illuminate our way for years to come. His legacy of love and service is written not only in the pages of Oakdale’s history but also on the face of the Covenant church today. On a more personal note, Willie Jemison was a gracious friend for over forty years. When he and I became yokefellows in the Oakdale ministry, I was fresh out of seminary and he was a seasoned church worker. Our relationship was warm and close–like Timothy to Paul. I learned more from him than he ever knew. We worked together at Oakdale for about a year until I sensed God’s call to another assignment. (I think my decision to accept that call was the only point of disagreement we ever had, and even in that, he was gracious to me.) He has been an important influence in my spiritual and ministerial journey. He quickened my love for the gospel, demonstrated what committed pastoral leadership is all about, and further sharpened my commitment to racial justice. I was privileged to have him as a colleague at the beginning of my life’s work as a model and mentor. But, more importantly, he has been our dear friend in Christ. Dotty and I will sorely miss him. Craig E. Anderson

  • Many fond memories of Willie going back to when North Park Covenant and Willie’s church would do a pulpit and choir exchange. I also remember taking my Confirmation class down to visit Willie’s church. He was always so inspiring and dedicated. Truly a saint that made a difference in the lives of so many people, not to mention the community in which he served and bore great influence.

  • It was a great privilege to be nearby and watch during the early days in the 1960’s as Oakdale Covenant Church made the unusual transitions that were necessary to stay put in its community and serve its new neighbors. What a thrill when Willie was called–then to see amazing progress and  to worship in that setting. Willie was truly a pioneer in the Evangelical Covenant Church, thankfully impatient at times, and absolutely refusing to sit in the back row and be calm. He was a unique leader in crushing stereotypes and challenging prejudices, all in the name of more faithful serving Jesus and his church. I thank God for Willie Jemison and express warm sympathy to his family. 

  • Pastor Willie Jemison was passionately in love with his Savior and exercised a persistent patience with the Covenant. To God’s greater glory and to the fruitfulness of the Central Conference and wider Covenant, Willie served and engaged us. He sacrifiiced much for Christ’s Church, and now lives beyond the clamor of the city and the tensions of race and strife. God be thanked for the life of Willie B. Jemison! Doug Johnson, Santa Barbara, CA

  • It was an honor to host Willie during his visit to Congo (then Zaire). We were blessed to have him as a guest in our home. I remember my son, Nathan sitting on Willie’ knee as he rocked in our family rocking chair. Everytime we would meet after his historic visit Willie would greet us like family–sweet. It was a joy and challenge to translate him, especially with his unique body language. How do you translate that into Lingala?

  • To the Jemison family: You were always so generous to allow Pastor Willie to travel and bring challenges and inspiration to the broader Covenant family. Willie was speaker at a family camp at Covenant Park in MN sometime in the ’70’s and when those Swedes were so stoic as he spoke, he finally said “Amen, lights!” He also came to a Canada Conference in Erickson, BC and challenged us Canadians to get excited about reaching all people for Christ. Every time we met him he was such an encouragement to us.

  • prayers for the whole Jemison family and Oakdale Church and Covenant community. I have a vivid memory of pastor Willie, who had a close relationship with my father, sitting at our kitchen table one day when I was a boy. They were talking about the Church, laughing, crying together, and praying about the future. I remember also many visits to the Church, and how welcoming that community is. Praise God for this faithful servant and prophet and leader among us.

  • How I thank God for the life and ministry of Willie Jemison. I found him to be a real friend and a dynamic man of God. His life not only influenced his rapidly growing congregation, but his life was a tremendous blessing to the Covenant Church. We will miss this dear brother in Christ.

  • To The entire Jemison Family: I want to express my sincere & deepest sympathy with the passing of Willie. My father(the late wally Mylander) was pastor at Oakdale Cov and also started Tinley park cov. Willie was a dear friend of our family as wellas a good friend of mine. I can always rememeber his great sermons and his deep voice. I always said willie would never let you fall aslepp in church!!. I will always cherish my firendship with Willie and I will see him in heaven someday!! God Bless all of you during this time. God said to Willie “Well done thy good and faithful servant”!!! Sincerely, Jim Mylander, Bloomington, Mn

  • Willie[s passion for God and issues of mercy and justice were well known amongst us all. Comfort and condolences to the family on their loss.

  • The depth and width of Pastor Jemison’s legacy will only be known once we all get to heaven. His impact in developing and multiplying leaders, his vision for finding ways to help young people access higher education, his determination to create an environment of empowerment and opportunity and his model of how to demonstrate love and extend mercy are undisputed markers of his ministry. I am so grateful to God that he served as my coach, mentor and advisor teaching me about the importance of loving people as a pastor and challenging the status quo as a church leader. I’ve enjoyed many glasses of lemonade and slices of Sis. Jemison’s mouth-watering cake in my visits with him as he taught me about people, leadership and pastoring. There hasn’t been an important event in my life where Pastor Jemison hasn’t present. I will be forever grateful for this one in a lifetime kind of friendship. My prayer is that in the days and years ahead his legacy will continue to bear the kingdom fruit of being companions of hope to the hopeless in this world. I praise God for allowing me to have all of these years with His servant. My prayers are with Sis. Jemison and the children as they face the difficult days ahead. Pastor Jemison will be missed, more than words can say, but His legacy and memory lives on as life-giving fruit in the lives of all of us he discipled. Well done, good and faithful servant and I will miss you greatly, my friend.

  • I first met Willie Jemison shortly after he came to Oakdale in 1970. I was impressed by him then and only grew more impressed as time went on. He was an impassioned, thoughtul, and highly skilled Christian leader. He leaves behind a lasting legacy. Our prayers are with the family.

  • Praise God for the life and ministry of Willie Jemison, who as much as any one person helped move the Covenant in the direction of a more diverse and inclusive family of faith that we are becoming today. Peace to his memory and God’s care to his family!

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