The Rev. Richard A. Evers, a visionary pastor who took his ministry outdoors as the founder of a Sacramento drive-in church, died March 2 of health complications related to a fall, his family said. He was 82.
Tapping into growing communities and California’s automobile culture, the Rev. Evers established churches that offered a comfortable, nontraditional environment for worship. He started Winding Way Community Church from scratch in 1961, walking door-to-door to invite neighbors to services and Bible study classes in his garage. Known today as Christ Community Church, the congregation counts 1,200 adult members.
“He was one of those people when you were in his presence, you felt love,” said the Rev. Greg Alderman, current senior pastor. “He was the epitome of pastoral care.”
In 1967, the Rev. Evers opened a drive-in church on Stockton Boulevard where people seeking God could join others in a public venue while worshipping privately in their vehicles. The Sacramento Community Drive-In Church met for a couple of years at Southgate Auto Movies before moving between Calvine and Sheldon roads.
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The church was inspired by his mentor, the Rev. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral, who started his own ministry atop a drive-in theater snack bar. Schuller enlisted the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, who popularized the “power of positive thinking,” to promote the Sacramento outdoor church as one of a chain planned on the West Coast as “20th-century missions.”
In its heyday, the Sacramento Community Drive-In Church was decidedly different from traditional houses of worship. Extension-cord speakers piped sermons into family station wagons. Ushers walked from car to car to collect the offering. Newcomers were welcomed by a choir of car horns that drowned out the roar of traffic on nearby Highway 99.
The Rev. Evers left in 1983 to serve as a pastor in San Francisco. Two other pastors led the drive-in church before it closed in 1995.
“I could tell story after story of how the drive-in ministry helped people, but it did not build solidarity,” the Rev. Evers said in 1996. “People would come, find some answers and then go back to their former church or move on to a new one.”
The third of eight children raised in a devout family in the Reformed Church in America, the Rev. Evers was born Nov. 7, 1931, in Chicago. He graduated from Central College in Pella, Iowa, and married Dorothy Wagenaar in 1954.
He earned a divinity degree at Western Theological Seminary and started his pastoral ministry in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1957. He received a doctorate from California Graduate School of Theology in 1978.
The Rev. Evers retired in 1996 after 13 years as pastor at Miraloma Community Church in San Francisco and volunteered in the pastoral care ministry at Christ Community Church.
A sports fan with many years of loyalty to the Chicago Cubs, he switched allegiance to the Giants while working in San Francisco. He lived in Wilton for many years and moved to a senior independent living center in Citrus Heights two years ago.
Family and friends remembered the Rev. Evers as a genial, loving man with a positive outlook on life. Besides God and his family, he was was devoted to serving others as a pastor.
“He had a zeal for the Word of God, a heart to serve and love for all,” said Marty Martin of Christ Community Church.
In addition to his wife, the Rev. Evers is survived by two sons, Devin and Daniel; four sisters, Arlene Hoekstra, Phyllis Persenaire, Sharon Vander Woude and Laurel Douma; two brothers, Chester and James; and a granddaughter.
A celebration of life is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at Christ Community Church, 5025 Manzanita Drive, Carmichael.