Giving You the Gospel: Dr. Calvin McFadden
Dr. Calvin McFadden wears many hats. Senior Pastor of the historic St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, MA, Chief Student Affairs officer and soon-to-be Vice President of Student Affairs at Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, CT; delegate for the Democratic National Convention; and husband and father. McFadden has a pretty impressive résumé, and he’s only 40-years-old.
The young pastor has a few similarities to the man he looks up to, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but perhaps the biggest of all is his continued pursuit to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
JET recently spoke with Dr. McFadden about his call to ministry, career journey, educational and political leadership, and his life’s mission.
JET: When did you realize ministry was your calling?
Dr. Calvin McFadden: I was called to ministry at the age of 15 and started pastoring my first church at the age of 18. The Chaplain of my college asked if I wanted to be a youth pastor. I was thinking, I love youth and it would be a way to get some extra money as a broke college student. When I got there, those folks were welcoming me as their pastor. I thought I was just going to be youth pastor and they said “No, you’re pastor.” Their pastor was retiring. He was the reverse of my age. I was 18. He was 81. I really do believe the congregation was pastoring me, though, because they taught me so much. In those years, I realized pastoring was a passion of mine and it was the Lord’s doing to get me to that place to recognize it.
JET: You’re now Senior Pastor of the historic St. John’s Congregational Church, where abolitionist John Brown was once pastor. What has the experience been like to be in a position of power at such a noted church?
McFadden: It’s been really humbling, because the church also has roots with the Underground Railroad. There are some really outstanding pastors who pastored St. John’s on whose shoulders I stand. I never forget that when I’m standing in front of that pulpit. I think about this special calling, this opportunity I’ve been given to serve this historic congregation.
JET: What is your church’s mission, and your overall life mission?
McFadden: The one mission that we always quote at my church is: “Building the kingdom of God in the congregation and the community.” As a church, we feel we have the duty to build up the surrounding community, to build up the people of God.
Someone asked me, “How do you see being the pastor of a church and being a college administrator as common ground?” And I said, “In church, I hope that I am a pastor who is helping people lead better lives, accept Christ as their savior and hopefully live how we all seek to live. As a college administrator, I’m also helping people to lead better lives and to empower themselves educationally.” I believe that the two work hand-in-hand.
JET: Tell us more about your experience as an educational leader.
McFadden: I’ve had the opportunity to work at Florida A&M and Florida State, and I’ve been in the community college sector. I’ve also been at an all women’s college. During those experiences, I realized higher education was where my passion was and that I have an affinity for first-generation students, as well as returning students who didn’t finish college, and those who struggle to get a college degree. My passion is with those who have had life struggles, because I feel it sort of mirrors some of my own struggles.
JET: What are some life lessons you’ve learned through your struggles and the many experiences you’ve had?
McFadden: Be who you are. Learn to be authentic. My grandmother used to say, “A carbon copy is never as good as the original,” so be who you are.
The second thing is, surround yourself with good people. We have choices about who we allow in our space. Some people really don’t need to be in our space and some people who challenge us do, so they can help us grow.
Another thing would be to make sure you have a spiritual focus. I believe it’s important for someone to have a spiritual center.
Last, enjoy life. Be happy. Take lemons and make lemonade.
JET: You were recently elected as a delegate for the Democratic National Convention in support of Hillary Clinton. How did this opportunity come about?
McFadden: I’m engaged in the state Democratic convention as well as a local Massachusetts Democratic Committee, and the call came out that they were looking for delegates to make sure that we had a diverse slate of folks who would be elected to go to the Democratic Convention. I had colleagues come to me and say I would be a good candidate, so I thought about it and prayed about it and thought it could be an exciting experience. When I ran, it was with the thought that Hillary Clinton would be our Democratic candidate. If by chance Bernie Sanders is the nominee, I will vote for him, but our working goal is to get Hillary Rodham Clinton into office.
JET: Your involvement in politics and as pastor makes me think of the Civil Rights Movement, when politics and the church worked hand-in-hand to make change. What is your take on that correlation?
McFadden: One of my favorite heroes is Martin Luther King Jr. I think he is the epitome of an intellectual, the epitome of a pastor and he changed the political landscape. He’s a perfect example to show that we as spiritual leaders have a mandate to make sure we have a voice at the table for the betterment of our people. When I ran for school committee, it was not only because I have my own children in the public school system, but the majority of the students in the Springfield school system are minorities. They’re mostly Latinos and African Americans, and what I was seeing was our children being left behind. I knew there needed to be a moral voice at the table. I’m not saying I’m necessarily that one person who can provide that, but I know that now people take a second look at things, because they know that I’m going to question it. I’ll raise an issue. I’ll take it to the public. I believe that’s what I have the responsibility of doing.
JET: What do you hope to be your legacy? When you leave this Earth, what do you hope to say you accomplished?
McFadden: The first thing is that I was a great husband and a great father. I would also hope that folks would be able to say that within the time I was at a church or a university that I left it better than it was when I found it. I hope that what I do will be motivation for younger people to get involved. We don’t have to wait until we’re 50, 60, 70-years-old to have a voice. Now is our time.