The Rev. John Edward Nix-McReynolds dies at 57; pastor of Second Baptist Church of Santa Ana
The pastor of Orange County's oldest and largest African American congregation was known for his singing and inspirational work with young people.
The Rev. John Edward Nix-McReynolds gave up an audition with the Metropolitan Opera to pursue the ministry. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Whether it was a teenager's personal drama or a community tragedy, the Rev. John Edward Nix-McReynolds was known for his calm, caring and focused demeanor — one that could bring people together.
Nix-McReynolds, the senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Santa Ana, died of liver failure April 2 at UCI Medical Center. He was 57.
The church, founded in 1923 in various Santa Ana homes, is Orange County's largest and oldest predominantly black church with a congregation of more than 2,000, including people who come from Riverside and Los Angeles counties to worship.
Nix-McReynolds was a fixture in the Santa Ana community, Mayor Miguel Pulido said.
"He just was always ready to step forward, he was always ready to volunteer to help," he said.
Pulido said that Nix-McReynolds was not only an inspiration to the black community, but to all of Santa Ana. He served on a multitude of boards, including the Santa Ana Unified School District's attendance review board to the National Council of Christians and Jews.
He was born June 12, 1953, in Chattanooga, Tenn., to Ethel and Benny Nix and came from a long line of sharecroppers, mostly from Alabama.
He took his mother's maiden name, and was raised by his grandparents until the age of 11, when he moved to Riverside to live with his mother and father, and seek better medical treatment for his severe epilepsy, which he eventually outgrew.
His father was in the military and his mother was a church musician. Nix-McReynolds eventually discovered his singing talent with his mother as she played hymns at home on the piano.
His seizures also didn't stop him from playing football in high school. Before he was recruited to study at Chapman University in 1973, he was living out of his car and read at the sixth-grade level.
William Hall, the dean of the College of Performing Arts at Chapman, said that Nix-McReynolds' vocal talent was staggering, but he never took it for granted. When he heard Nix-McReynolds sing for the first time, he remembered thinking that the young man's voice was a God-given instrument.
"When he was 20, he sounded like he was 35," Hall said.
Nix-McReynolds was able to travel the world to sing with the Vienna State Symphony and the Dubrovnik Music Festival in Yugoslavia, among others.
"He could sing the Lord's Prayer better than anyone I had ever heard," Hall said.
Nix-McReynolds earned an audition with the Metropolitan Opera, but before the audition, he was called to ministry by God, said his daughter, Melissa.
He earned a bachelor's degree in music performance from Chapman University in 1978 and a master's degree in sacred literature in 1990 from what is now Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Ind.
Though he gave up music as a professional career, it was always a part of his life. He joined Second Baptist Church in 1977, where he met his wife, Evangeline Donald. They married in 1981. In 1984, he was elected pastor of the church.
He took a special interest in the youths of the church, and was known for his one-on-one meetings and for encouraging young people to go to college.
Sonya Tabb said that when she joined the church as a single mother in 1989, Nix-McReynolds took a special interest in her daughter, Tabitha, who was 4. Tabitha struggled with reading, but the pastor helped her find a tutor. Throughout college, he helped her spiritually and financially. Now, she is a deputy sheriff in Baton Rouge, La.
"He was like a father to her," Tabb said. "He was like that for all of the kids."
He was no different to his own children. Paul McReynolds said his father would sometimes pull all-nighters with him to make sure he understood what he was learning in school. He also had a playful side, and would hide his children's alarm clocks.
Melissa said she remembers lamenting having to memorize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech for church because the words were so big.
"It was important to my dad that we knew these words and to never give up," she said.
In addition to his wife, two children and parents, Nix-McReynolds is survived by four brothers and four sisters.
His funeral service is Saturday at 10 a.m. at Second Baptist Church, 4300 Westminster Ave. Burial will follow in Santa Ana Cemetery.