When it comes to building a legacy, Joshua McClure stands at the front of the pack in this region. The longtime pastor of the Pleasant Street Baptist Church in Westerly, McClure has done so much more than spread the Good Word and welcome lost souls. He has served as the guardian of an entire area of town and he has made a concrete difference -- literally -- in the lives of many by providing shelter in a quiet, respectful way.
This Saturday afternoon, the community will turn out at the Calabrese Club, around the corner from his church, to wish McClure well on the next chapter in his life’s calling, a chapter that won’t take him far geographically, but one that will allow him to continue exploring and expanding his mission as minister to those in need of both spiritual and physical healing.
“I’m not retiring,” he told us. “I’m just retiring from the church.”
He’s in the midst of writing his fifth book, plans to expand his Sunday morning radio program, and continue lecturing, counseling and running his Christian-education workshops. At 82, McClure clearly has too much going on to slow down.
McClure felt the calling to serve spiritually after starting on the career path of a skilled cabinet maker. But in 1976, he had a vision that transformed his life, and through his decades of work and caring, the lives of many, many more.
His associate pastor, Mallory Davis, refers to a Bible passage when crediting McClure with creating a church “where ‘the least of these’ were always welcome.” In addition to his obligations at the neighborhood church, McClure converted a nearby house into the church’s Family Life Center, where McClure does his counseling, runs a food pantry, and helps individuals with everything from finding a home to filling out a job application.
Helping individuals may be a common thread among those who are called to such service, but McClure has gone much further.
“We’ve tried to concentrate on community. That’s the kind of ministry I’ve been called to,” he said in an interview.
Early in his tenure at the Pleasant Street church in the North End McClure worked to begin transforming the tough neighborhood into a safe, respectful place where families could let their children play outside without worry. The church purchased four properties, which today provide stable housing for those in need, and he initiated with others the North End Crime Watch in 1994. He recalled for us in last Sunday’s edition how 20 years ago, drug dealers worked openly on the streets of the neighborhood.
“You couldn’t walk down the street then. You didn’t dare,” he said of neighboring Pierce Street. “It’s a totally different street now.” Adrian Pelchat, a North End resident who worked with McClure to clean up the neighborhood, said a predominance of absentee landlords in that area in the 1980s started the downward spiral of what was once a proud Italian neighborhood. Together McClure and Pelchat sought to reverse that trend. Pelchat recalled McClure telling him “you take care of the crime, just give me the people.”
“The best thing I’ve ever done is hook up with him,” Pelchat said of McClure. “He’s a man to be respected in every sense of the word.”
When it comes to legacies then, McClure has more than enough to go around.