At Dr. Elliott Mason, Sr.’s infant dedication in 1922, the pastor at his family’s New Orleans church prophesied he would grow up to be a preacher. How true that vision turned out to be! Dr. Mason preached his first sermon at age 16—the same year he entered Dillard University, where he was honored three years in a row as the top student in religion and philosophy. He received a second bachelor’s degree in divinity from the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology, where he also ranked first in his class. He then earned a master’s degree in Sacred Theology from Oberlin and, later, a doctorate in New Testament Theology from the University of Southern California. After serving as a pastor in Toledo, Ohio for fifteen years, in 1959 he was called as Assistant Pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Three years later he became Trinity’s pastor, a post he held until his retirement in 1985.
In his years as pastor “Dad” Mason, as I and many called him, built Trinity into one of the leading congregations in Los Angeles. After retirement he and “Mom” Mason continued lives of service by founding World Renewal Ministries, a prayer and counseling ministry where he often served as a minister to other pastors and to me. When he passed away in March, ministers, community leaders, and grateful congregation members celebrated his leadership at Trinity and his influence in the church. But he was also a great unsung hero of the children’s movement, a faithful advocate for children’s needs, and a personal rock for me.
To me, Dr. Mason became simply “Dad.” He was a great servant of God and was a prayer warrior without peer. He prayed me – and so many others – through many a rock and hard place, time after time. His phone messages – often unbidden – encouraged and lifted my flagging spirits when I needed it most. Just as I had reached my wit’s end and didn’t know which way to turn, I would come home and hear Dad’s voice on my answering machine, with just the right Bible passages or words, at just the right time. He kept me going and able to try again and again to do what is right for children and the poor against all odds. Dad reminded me over and over again that God is in charge, that God is able, that God is ever present, and that it is not our strength but God’s strength that carries us forward. The burden became light and the yoke easy. He touched many lives the same way. The fruits of his God-driven labors are everywhere – in the children prayed back to health; in the young men doctors had given up on who beat death’s odds and are now college graduates helping others; in the meetings that turned into successful action rather than disasters; in the policies that got protected and enacted because of the new spiritual energy he fueled.
Dad Mason will live on and on in our hearts and minds and in the lives of everyone he touched. The Children’s Defense Fund-Alex Haley Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee is the spiritual home of the children’s movement, and provides opportunities for people from every religious tradition to come together to explore common concerns and shared commitments to improving the lives of children, determine ways to work together to achieve justice for our nation’s children, and gain a deeper understanding of the richness and resources each religious tradition brings to the movement for children. A Dr. Elliott “Dad” Mason prayer place will be dedicated at Haley Farm so the thousands of advocates for children – old and young – who come each year will know his name. I personally believe that prayer and meditation and silence are crucial foundations for authentic servant-leaders’ lives. Quiet unsung spiritual supporters like Dr. Mason inspire us to honor the God to whom all children are precious and who entered history, Christians believe, as a poor and vulnerable child.