All of us have a story to tell.
Author Annette C. Billie first told the story in 2006 about the Rev. Henry Evans and his founding of Evans Metropolitan AME Zion Church, the oldest AME house of worship in this city that was chartered in 1801.
“There was no organized religion in Fayetteville,” Billie, 88, says about her book, “The History of Evans Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: A Chronicle of Events,” which chronicles the church’s genesis and its 222-year legacy. “When he got here, it was really for black citizens. He put up a little shack, and people started worshipping there.”
Berthenia Lindo is bringing the author’s story to life in the stage production of “A Glimpse Into Evans,” which is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at the John D. Fuller Complex at 6627 Bunce Road in west Fayetteville.
“I wrote it based on Dr. Billie’s book,” says Lindo, wife of Evans Metropolitan AME Zion Church Pastor Selvyn A. Lindo. “The Rev. Evans was a shoemaker. He was on his way to Charleston, South Carolina, when he saw an amount of sin in Fayetteville and no Christianity. So, he decided to stay.”
It was a tumultuous time in the city, as the licensed Methodist minister from Virginia would come to know. A white population of residents took umbrage, Lindo says, at a Black preacher spreading the gospel at the Cool Spring Street house of worship that today is not only the oldest AME church in Fayetteville, but, according to Billie, the second-oldest AME Zion church in the south and the third-oldest AME Zion church in the world.
“There was drinking and carrying on,” Billie was saying this week in an interview with CityView Media.
Women of the night, Berthenia Lindo says, gambling and fighting.
Eventually, according to the Malachi Project — which preserves a history of faith about African American believers of the past three centuries — residents Black and white would warm to the Rev. Evans’ preaching at what then was known as the African Meeting House.
“How she tells the story is very interesting,” Lindo says about Billie’s writing. “The mob tried to kill him. They were mad at him because he was Black. He jumped into the icy Cape Fear River three times trying to get away from the mob.”
‘A Glimpse Into Evans’
The genesis of “A Glimpse Into Evans,” Lindo says, came to her in a dream two months after the church suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Florence in September 2018, which led Lindo to read Billie’s book about the church’s history.
“That caused me to dig into the history,” she says. “I was just so amazed.”
The church became a location for education after the Civil War, according to the church website. Lindo says the church basement is where Fayetteville State University was conceived.
Lindo calls her ability as a playwright as “given to me by God.” Lindo has other plays and skits in her playwrighting repertoire.
“We have been rehearsing this play since 2019,” she says. “The reason it took so long is because the pandemic came along and shut down everything. But that has let us be able to perfect it. We’re excited about it.”
Randolph Williams II, a recent graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, will be in the lead role of the Rev. Henry Evans.
“He is a young man,” Lindo says. “He goes from being young to old in the play. He is in 1780, and his spirit continues to walk across the stage. When something bad happens, he is sad; when something good, he is happy.”
The Rev. Patania L. Eiland of Hood Memorial AME Zion Church on Rosehill Road, Lindo says, will play the part of Nella Evans, the Rev. Evans’ wife.
“His wife was amongst the sinners,” Lindo says about those the Rev. Evans converted after beginning his ministry.
The cast of 25 includes Evans Metropolitan AME Zion Church members from the Voncyle R. Davis Drama Guild.
“A lot of the story is in the narration,” Lindo says, which will be done by Donna Newkirk of Hood Memorial AME Zion Church. “She will be an old woman telling the story. The best part of the play to me is the beginning and the ending. The narrator interviews the Rev. Evans and his wife at the end and asks if he ever knew he would be such an intricate part of Fayetteville.”
Randolph Williams, in his portrayal of the preacher, Lindo says, will speak in a frail voice.
“If not for Jesus Christ, everything is done for naught,” he’ll say of the Rev. Evans’ farewell sermon in 1810. “And how he swam across the icy Cape Fear River. He’ll speak those words in a frail state. At the end, they all sing ‘I Shall Wear a Crown,’ and they walk out.”
The play has one fan already.
“It’s a must-see,” the Rev. Lindo says.
Annette Billie plans to be among the 350 in attendance for the play, with a front-row seat.
“I didn’t know she was going to do it,” Billie says about Lindo. “But I’m pleased she is doing it for the church. It’s a good idea. It’s not about me. That’s not who I am, but people need to know” about the Rev. Henry Evans and the history of Evans Metropolitan AME Zion Church.
The Rev. Henry Evans died at age 50 in 1810.
The good reverend is entombed under the chancel in the church sanctuary and keeping watch like a good shepherd on his flock.
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.