A CHAMPION For People In Need
Pastor Joshua A. McClure, a cabinet maker by trade, turned to building a congregation and community after "a vision from God."
The Rev. Joshua Alvin McClure arrived in Westerly with a crystal clear vision in 1981. "It was a vision from God, a vision to take care of people," says McClure, the energetic 80-year- old pastor of the Pleasant Street Baptist Church and award-winning author of three books - "Can These Bones Live?" "Almost Persuaded," and "The Crimson Thread of the Bible." McClure will be honored for his accomplishments at a special ceremony Friday night, and while he says his vision has been mostly fulfilled, he refuses to take any credit. It's all God's doing, says McClure. "I give Him all the credit. I am so blessed. God is always in front of me."
McClure says his original vision included "a full slate of ministries and activities, which would reach out to all people, ages, ethnic backgrounds, and social classes in the community." "I saw people, some with their arms outstretched," he says, "and lots of faces - some with tears." And although he met with some resistance to his vision at first, as he writes in "Faith in Vision," the church's official history, "gradually, with God entering people's hearts and speaking to them, they came to know and understand what His message and intent were.”
In his 30 years at the church - nestled in Westerly's once predominantly Italian North End - McClure has founded Share the Vision Ministries, and helped found Ezekiel Charitable Ministries, the North End Crime Watch and Community Development Inc. He has also served on the many local boards and committees, including the Westerly Substance Abuse Task Force and the Ocean Community YMCA, and he is currently the vice president of the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center. He is also a member of Access to Recovery, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services voucher program for substance abuse treatment.
Time and again, McClure, who began his career as a cabinet maker, has been acknowledged as a major force in the revitalization of the North End, and as a champion for the homeless, the poor and the disenfranchised. "Josh is a caring, compassionate individual," says state Sen. Dennis L. Algiere, R-Westerly. "He's always ready and willing to help people, especially those in need. His church is an important institution in town and he has built up the congregation. I am happy to have him and his family in town and happy to call him a friend."
The Rev. Carl H. Balark Jr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Providence, calls his colleague "extraordinarily gifted." "He's a gifted preacher and a gifted writer," says Balark who plans to preach at the 4 p.m. service at Pleasant Street Baptist on Sunday honoring McClure. "And he is a man of impeccable character." "He has done so much to help others, not only by imparting his knowledge and wisdom, but with his books and by mentoring," Balark adds. "He gives so much with his leadership and his ability to empower others."
A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, McClure grew up in New Haven and for 29 years owned and operated a kitchen design and installation business in Providence and Wakefield. In 1959, he was asked to build a communion table in memory of his mother, who had recently died. Five years later, most of the church was destroyed in a fire, yet the table remained. Soon after, McClure says, he heard God's call. "It's been a wonderful experience," says McClure as he runs his hand over the top of the table he built half a century ago. "I feel wonderful and I have no complaints. I still say it’s all about helping people - that's what God called me to do."
These days McClure says he has found a new career with his writing. He has written a workbook for Christian educators on biblical understanding, which he hopes to share with other churches and denominations. "It's become a whole new career," says McClure about his writing. And while he says he has no plans to leave the Pleasant Street Baptist Church, he may be sharing his role as pastor. "I'll be here," he insists. "We'll be looking, but I'll be here."
"He's a real go-getter," says Thomas A. O'Connell, a writer who helped McClure with his first book, "Can These Bones Live,” and edited the church’s history book. "And such a public figure in Westerly. His middle name should be ‘C' - for community and for counseling." O'Connell says that McClure spends hours counseling and listening to people in need, then helping them find solutions to their problems. He works tirelessly, O'Connell says, finding people housing, jobs and food. He built up the church's congregation by driving vans throughout Westerly and the surrounding areas, O'Connell says, and filling them with people looking for a place to pray. "He was bringing in all the souls," says O'Connell.
"Josh's impact on my and my kids' lives can't be overstated," says former Westerly resident Ellyn Santiago, a free lance journalist who has written several stories about McClure. "At once a man of God, he is also a man of the people and that's been his career - making a difference in the lives of not just his parishioners but countless others in this community. Everyone who knows him will attest he is special; a gifted preacher, wise counsel, and, at 70- something, Josh became a writer, and an amazing one at that. I was honored to work with him over the years and I am proud to call him a dear friend.*
McClure graduated from Barrington College with a degree in biblical studies, and studied at the Andover Newton School. He served as an associate minister at the Westerly church for five years - from 1981-1986 - under the Rev. Harold Lambe before becoming the pastor in June 1986. He was elected president of the American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island in 1980, the same year he was awarded the denomination's "Man of the Year Award." A fit and agile 80-yearold, McClure, walks daily and works out at the YMCA's "Stretch and Go" class several times a week and says "I feel like I'm 25." He is the father of four and lives in Bradford with his wife, Ida.
By NANCY BURNS-FUSARO, The Westerly Sun Staff Writer