Jack E. McClendon, 83; longtime pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in D.C.

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010; B08

The Rev. Jack E. McClendon, 83, a longtime pastor at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington who also was involved in civil rights work, died Jan. 26 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He had congestive heart failure.

The Alabama native was a co-founder of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, an ecumenical group of city congregations involved in social justice issues.

Rev. McClendon was active in civil rights causes in the 1960s through New York Avenue Presbyterian, which served as a gathering place for anti-Vietnam War activists and a publicity office for the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.

The church hosted Southern civil rights demonstrators who came through Washington. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached twice at Rev. McClendon's invitation at the New York Avenue church, where Rev. McClendon was associate pastor for 34 years until retiring in 1991.

Over the years, Rev. McClendon turned his ministry into a crusade on behalf of the mentally ill, the homeless and the elderly and spent much of his time in personal advocacy for the infirm and powerless. The McClendon Center, founded in 1972 and located at the church, serves meals and provides counseling and advocacy services for more than 100 senior citizens, homeless people and deinstitutionalized mentally ill people.

"One of the things I'm proudest of in my career is giving the church an open door, opening it to the poor, people of color, people of all faiths and persuasions," Rev. McClendon told The Washington Post in a 1991 article.

Jack Elliott McClendon, a District resident, was born in LaFayette, Ala., and was raised a Southern Baptist. He served in the Army in the Pacific during World War II.

After the war, he graduated from Mercer University in Macon, Ga., where he said a pivotal experience was studying under a progressive philosophy professor who made a strong case for the church as a voice for social change.

"My eyes were opened to the conditions around me," he told the Washington Times in 1991. "I didn't hear anything like that in the church. That constituted the heart of the call."

He was ordained a Baptist minister, and he was a pastor in Alabama before leaving in 1950 to study at Union Theological Seminary in New York, a center of liberal Protestant scholarship. He also did mission work in East Harlem before going to Scotland to study for a doctorate from the University of Glasgow. "I knew when I returned to the United States I would be Presbyterian," he told the Times.

Rev. McClendon was considered a dean of the city's mainline Protestant clergy and a political player.

He was an early backer of Marion Barry but broke with then-Mayor Barry in the late 1980s and threw his support, unsuccessfully, behind the mayoral candidacy of D.C. Council member John Ray (D-At Large).

After retiring from the New York Avenue church, Rev. McClendon served as a chaplain at Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick.

Survivors include a sister.

Staff writer Adam Bernstein contributed to this report.

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