Answering The Call
01:00 AM EST on Thursday, November 9, 2006
By ARLINE A. FLEMING Journal Staff Writer --South Kingstown, Rhode Island News
Rev. Joshua A. McClure, pastor of the Pleasant Street Baptist Church in Westerly. McClure recently wrote a book titled Can These Bones Live.
The full title of the Rev. McClure’s book is Can These Bones Live? The miraculous story of what can happen to a church that follows God’s vision.
WESTERLY — The afternoon light casts shadows behind the Rev. Joshua A. McClure who is settled into in his Pleasant Street office.
“Is it afternoon already?” he wonders aloud.
He’s busy. Always busy. Morning worship. Evening worship. Bible study. Prayer meeting. Meetings with church members, committees. Neighborhood concerns.
He’s pastor of the Pleasant Street Baptist Church where there is no absence of duties to fill his day. Yet four years ago, amid a growing church population and a neighborhood with revitalization concerns, McClure decided it was time to take on yet another task.
It was time to document his personal spiritual journey, and that of the Pleasant Street Baptist Church, a Westerly institution he feels passionate about.
He found himself waking at 4 a.m., writing notes in a yellow legal pad, taking stock of the thoughts and images plowing through his head.
“I had a stack that high,” he gestures with his hand, indicating the thickness of a brick.
He had notes about the Westerly church where vanloads of people arrive on Sundays representing a wide area.
He had notes about the church’s surrounding North End neighborhood where there existed positive signs of revitalization – much of it due to the support and drive of church members. He had notes about his own journey, from a successful businessman to being installed as pastor of the church in 1986, after feeling called personally to the post. He had notes about the feeling of hope that existed in his church community, and in his own heart.
Where would all these notes take him, he wondered, though perhaps he really knew all along.
“Two compelling forces came together to forge my decision to write this book. One was the result of what I saw happening in the church today. This led me to capitulate to the many people prodding me to record the unveiling of God’s vision for Pleasant Street Baptist Church; too many to be deemed coincidental. The other was internal and had to do with my own spiritual journey,” he wrote in the opening lines to his new book, Can These Bones Live? The miraculous story of what can happen to a church that follows God’s vision.
The book’s title is based upon a passage from the Bible. In Ezekiel, the prophet wonders about his people’s demise, asking: “Son of man, can these bones live?” McClure asks in the preface to his book, “Can present-day stagnant, expiring church bodies live again? God alone knows.”
Joshua McClure grew up in New York, and moved to Connecticut when he was in junior high. A teacher recognized his woodworking skills, and it was there that McClure learned how to build furniture. He later moved to Massachusetts, and then joined the Navy where he was given the opportunity to refine those skills.
A job at a wood-finishing company brought him to Providence where he eventually established his own business in kitchen cabinetry. He and his family joined the Pond Street Baptist Church, there.
“I worshipped in Pond Street for the next 21 years until I began my journey to Westerly,” he wrote – and toward the ministry.
McClure would go on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Barrington College and attended Andover-Newton Theological Seminary in Andover, Mass. In 1982, he became associate pastor in Westerly. He and his wife Ida have four grown children.
“There were only about 30 people here,” he recalled of those early years, “maybe 12 children in Sunday school. Things here were basically going downhill. There was no vision for the future.”
The church had a history going back to the late 1800s – much of which he has documented in his book – and part of that history includes being called the Advent Christian Colored Church. “People used to call it the little black church on the hill.”
A fire destroyed much of the original building in 1964, but they not only rebuilt, but also acquired neighboring structures – one of which today houses church offices. McClure said they hope to open a preschool in another building within the year.
“It has grown so much in these past 15 years,” he said.
And whenever he made note of that growth, and plans for the future, church members would ask him, “Are you writing about it?”
At first he wasn’t.
“I didn’t even want to start it,” the pastor said.
But friends, church members, family, former teachers told him he had to, “ ‘You can do this,’ they told me,” he said.
So he did.
“I started putting notes on the computer,” he recalled, writing in between preaching and ministering at the church that he describes as being nearly closed when he arrived, to now being “so full of life. This church is so alive. On Sunday, I am baptizing eight people.
“People come from Providence, South Attleboro, Connecticut. It’s incredible what God does. This is not just a church, it’s a ministry,” he said. “And it happened with no fanfare.”
McClure said he hopes to “spread the message,” by way of this book, that though some churches may be in decline, this church is thriving.
Once he got started on this book, he said, “I never wanted to quit. I know it was God working.”
McClure will sign copies of his book on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Westerly Public Library at 7 p.m. Copies of the book can be obtained through the church, McClure said. Tate Publishers will release it on Dec. 15 “and then you’ll be able to get it everywhere and anywhere,” he said.
Though the Bradford resident already had full days ministering to those who needed him, and helping to organize holiday food drives and other projects, he pushed on with the writing.
“I had to do this. God was calling me.”