I thought being a member of a church where the Pastor would offer you candy as a 4 year old was a big deal, until he became a Bishop who could offer resources for who I was becoming as a 20 year old, young woman. Born in Tennessee, Bishop C.H. McClelland wrought his leadership in humble beginnings, which has enabled him to be the resourceful, humble, and authentic leader that he is today. When I heard an answer on the telephone, ‘hello,’ I did not know whether to ask for Bishop McClelland or Mr. McClelland, as asking my Pastor to do an interview was a different experience from casually coming to him for a question or two. Approachable and encouraging as he is, however, I figured I’d return the honor of him agreeing to do the interview by asking for Bishop McClelland, and his answers fulfilled me with a wealth of information about Charles Henry McClelland, the Man, Pastor, and Bishop.
Who are some of your favorite leaders and why?
Well, one would be Bishop Charles Harrison Mason because of not only his faith, but the accomplishments he made during a time in life when it was not very easy to accomplish some of the things he did, like building Mason Temple – during World War II. Because he was such a man of faith, and how God used him to draw so many to Christ. Another would be Martin Luther King because of his conviction and courage to risk his life for others, and for his accomplishments both in life and in death.
How do the people, or leaders you admire have an impact on your leadership as a Pastor?
I think that these are men who certainly demonstrated courage and conviction in what they believed in. The reason for their success and accomplishing all that they did as far as how they helped people, and affected so many lives of not one particular race, but what they did to promote well-being, whether it was spiritually or economically.
As a Pastor and Bishop, in what ways has your leadership changed since you became Bishop, if at all?
Becoming a Bishop gave me a much more broader focus in terms of churches, Pastors, and the impact that they have on people. Also, the needs of Pastors, as they serve their memberships, and the impact that local churches have. It has made me want to do all I can to become a resource-person for Pastors, and their churches as a Bishop. As I have opportunities to share and bring in persons who can provide good information and connections that will help not only Pastors, but the members that they serve will help them to build and feel encouraged in the work that they’re doing.
How different is leadership in church ministry versus leadership in the community?
Actually, I think that one helps the other, and if you are a leader in the church, and following the principles of scripture, it will help you to be an even better leader in the community. When you talk about some of the social justice issues of meeting human needs, whether it be economically for example, people needing jobs, education, and housing, those are things that hopefully your influence as a Pastor will help you to make connections with people that can help make a difference. A lot of people need someone who can help them to connect with resources, so as a spiritual leader, that is the first and foremost priority that a Pastor should have. Also, maintaining a spiritual relationship which helps them to help people, and I think Jesus models that quite well.
What obligations do you feel you have, personally, as a Bishop in the community?
The obligation to lead by precept and example; to speak on appropriate matters that affect the quality of life in the city, and to especially not be timid about representing people who are in need. Maybe they are down economically, and there are opportunities where people in power need to know what they should be doing to raise people up versus making it more difficult for them. I feel a passion to not only speak out, but to do all within my power to help make clear that this is what needs to be done to really help people. I think some of that is evidenced through what we do through Word of Hope. Word of Hope has a mission to provide services that will lift people, economically and spiritually, which is in our mission statement. We provide job placement, training in technology, healthcare services for people who struggle with drugs and we help them to be drug free, and the prison or reentry program helps people coming out of prison get reintegrated. Those services are going to be around for a long time, and technology is not going away because it’s more sophisticated. These services really help to empower people to do better for themselves.
As a member of your church, we have come to know you as our Pastor, but you are also a black man, so do you define yourself as a black Pastor?
[laughs] Well [pauses] I think I define myself first and foremost as a Pastor because although I am a black pastor, I do not teach a black gospel. I am not trying to make Holy Cathedral a church for black people only. The gospel is for all people, and as I represent the gospel of Jesus Christ, my message has to resonate or connect with all people, regardless of their race, color, creed, or socioeconomic status. Because I am a black pastor, I do not use that as any kind of privilege or handicap for that matter, but just to follow the teachings of Christ, and what I should be as a Pastor to people.
So, for any new member or guest to your church, how would you define leadership to that person as a Pastor, or how do you define leadership?
I would define it as leading people to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. As they embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ, they will find that their lives will be fulfilled, and the plans that God has for their lives will be brought to fruition. My primary responsibility is to teach the Word of God to people, so that they will be drawn to Jesus Christ, and to be an example of that teaching, so that they will not see a contradiction.
Can you further explain what “not being a contradiction” means?
Meaning that what I teach to them, I am an example of that. If I teach people to trust God, they can see by my lifestyle that I trust Him. If I teach people to live a righteous life by the grace of God, they will see my life as a righteous life by His grace. To teach people to have faith in God, so when we face challenges, as we all do in life, knowing that we can pray and believe that God will work on our behalf, and when they see me doing that, it will encourage them to do the same thing.
Can you expound on the longevity of the church in Black History, or how do you measure the impact that the black church has in the future?
I think you measure it by both spiritual and economic influence. The church is the one institution in the Earth that represents Christ, and the church has been very much involved in social causes. The civil rights movement, for example, the church has been a resource for black people, especially in terms of providing encouragement, inspiration, and fortitude to remain strong and believe for better days. The church continues to be a source of hope for people to face life’s daily challenges, and I believe that as we continue to promote Christ through the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is the foundation for the hope that people need to do well in life. Everybody needs hope, and the church is the place where people should be able to come to be inspired and get hope in a practical way. It’s not just about emotions, but about people getting real answers to the real problems they face, and that their faith in God is real, and God answers prayer, and they will experience that and come to know personally that the church is a place where I got my life back together. Or for example, I was able to excel when life was seemingly beating me down and I couldn’t seem to get ahead, but because I went to church and heard a word from God through the mouth of the preacher, or the Mother, or the Missionary that my life can improve and get better, and the end result is that it did. So, the church has to be the vanguard for providing hope, inspiration, and encouragement that they can be all that God would have them to be.
Lastly, what does Black History Month mean to you?
It means, first and foremost, knowing who we as a people are, and we cannot fully know that without knowing our history, knowing our past, but that our history and our past should be lined up with scripture. What I mean by that is that God made all people to dwell on the face of the Earth, so when we look at who we are, we need to look at it within the context of what God says about us as people. Because we are people of African descent, as much as we know about our past should help us to appreciate who we are, and strive to be an even better representation of people of color, black people in particular. We should also take great pride in our History, and that who we are is supported by what the scriptures, or word of God says about us.
To keep up with the Bishop and his church, visit http://www.holycathedral.org.