The Progressive Story

By:Pastor Thomas A. Barclay

Our vision here at Progressive is to see souls saved as a result of our obedience to the call of the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.  Strategically planted in a community vamped with drugs, alcohol and prostitution, it is our desire to see our community saved and restored to true spiritual health and strength.  We lend ourselves to the work and Gospel of Jesus Christ that souls may be saved, so lives, hearts, and families healed and restored.

While being trained as a social worker at the Yale Child Study Center, God began to develop purpose and direction for my life.  On a cool sunny Sunday morning in February 1995, my father, Bishop Fitz Barclay, Sr., shared with the congregation the he would be retiring from the pastorate in 30 days.  The elders of the church went into prayer and meetings because for the previous 37 years Bishop Barclay had led Progressive Beulah Pentecostal Church as pastor and spiritual overseer. 

As the elders of the church met to arrange the process of selecting a successor to the Bishop, one elder suggested that we should not publicly open our pulpit to parade potential candidates back and forward.  She said that God had told her that the next pastor was among us.  We anxiously asked her to share with us who God had chosen, and she said the pastor's son, Thomas.  As she said my name, I could feel God giving me inner peace.  When asked how I felt about the matter at hand, I humbly said to the groups of elders that I felt a need to discuss the matter with my wife.

As the weeks passed, I accepted God's will for me to lead His people at Progressive Beulah.  I began to ask God to lead and guide me to be an effective leader.  I promised Him that I would always follow His lead.  I was officially installed on May 21, 1995.  I recall preaching my first sermon as the new pastor on the theme, "Let's Go Fishing for Men."  In that sermon, I encouraged the small membership to share God with others (working people) so I could become a full-time pastor.  As I completed my sermon and sat down, I heard God saying to me, "Wrong men."  He instructed me to go after the drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and homeless. He specifically instructed me to invite them to church to assist with their issues.

I told God that I did not know how to reach out to the people that he had identified for my ministry. God assured me that He would show me.  The next evening while at church, God spoke to me in my spirit and instructed me to go outside.  As I obeyed, I immediately encountered a man called "Batman," (his real name was Calvin Smith).  He was the neighborhood alcoholic.  I inquired about his life story and discovered that he had been struggling with his alcohol addiction for over 30 years.  He went on to share with me that he would be 41 years old on September 8th, which means he was 10 years old when he began drinking.  I told him that I was going to have a birthday party for him.  He did not understand why, neither did I, but I was obeying the Lord.  I welcomed him to invite a few of his friends, to which he responded, "you really don't know me."  No, I did not know that every alcoholic and drug addict in the neighborhood knew him.  Every day he would come and ask me for additional invitations. 

I announced to the church that we were going to sponsor a birthday party for a neighborhood drunk.  My congregation thought I had lost my mind.  A few thought they had made a mistake installing me as pastor.  I convinced them that God told me to have this party, and enlisted their support. The men cooked the dinner while the women decorated the dining room, and wrapped special gifts for Batman and door prizes for all guests. Everybody pitched in to warmly welcome our guests and to do whatever needed to be done.    

When the day of this special party arrived, over 60 of Batman's friends attended.  During the party, we had a special song dedicated to Batman and the entire group that attended.  While the song continued, almost 95% of those in attendance began to weep.  While the tears came down their faces, they asked God to forgive them and help them with their addictions.  One young man had been on his way to kill himself when he was asked to attend the party.  He turned over his anxieties to the Lord.  A pharmacist turned drug addict was reunited with his estranged wife and seven children. 

Amazingly, there were many other such stories.  I have spent time on Batman's story because it became the foundation for all that we have done these past few years. After the party, many of the participants began coming to our church, asking us for more help with their problems.  As pastor, I also spent more time on the streets than in the church, heeding God's call to get outside the church walls and go where the people were.  Of course, we had to prepare our church for this new group.  We began sending these needy men and women to year-long residential rehabilitation programs like Teen Challenge and New Life for Girls (composed of several locations spanning across the U.S.).  So far, we have sent over 500 men and women to Teen Challenge and other drug rehabilitation programs.  Our church has fully supported them financially and spiritually. It is fulfilling to see that many of the men and women we have sent away have graduated and are doing well.

Again, there are many outstanding stories of changed lives resulting from these programs.  As one prime example, we sent away another man known, like Batman, as a neighborhood drunk for 30 years.  He has been back now for six years working actively in the church, even being one of our worship leaders; and was appointed as a deacon.

Twenty-four years have now passed since I became pastor. Our mission has not changed, and we are still reaching out to this community plagued by pain and convalescence.  We have grown larger although our membership is still about 100.  We consider ourselves a little church with a big heart.  Every Sunday, we send out buses and vans to homeless shelters to pick up 80-100 men.  We feed them breakfast and dinner, give them showers (in our transitional living house) and give them fresh clothes.  Some have begun to attend other church activities on weekdays.  One mother, when informed that her son was attending Progressive, exclaimed, "That's not my son; he would not be caught dead in a church".  When persuaded to come and see, she was came amazed that her son was there praising God. She saw that he was a changed man.

In the past few years, we have purchased another house for women which is being used for ministry for the church and housing for our church crusades. For a year, we opened up a restaurant to provide employment for ex-addicts. I know that in that year, God fulfilled his divine plan and purpose for that ministry. As usual, we have continued venturing outside of our four walls and ministering on the streets.