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George McCalep, leader in SBC racial reconciliation, dies

DECATUR, Ga. (BP)–George O. McCalep Jr., pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., for 27 years and a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention’s efforts toward racial reconciliation, died Dec. 23 following a year-long battle with cancer. He was 67.

Some of McCalep’s greatest achievements came during his tenure as president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC in 2002 and 2003 when the young fellowship began to grow.

“One of the hallmarks, I think, of his administration was the establishment of several more state fellowships, getting people in the grassroots of our convention involved in what’s really happening and helping them to find a niche and a place where they could feel a part and feel the pulse of the fellowship and of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mark A. Croston Sr., the current fellowship president, told Baptist Press.

McCalep was called as pastor of Greenforest in 1979 when the church had only about 25 members. Today its membership is 4,000 and it is considered an anchor to the south DeKalb County community, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“He started with a church that was very small and had very humble beginnings. He grew the Greenforest church into megachurch status, but he never forgot about the little guys,” Croston, pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., said. “He constantly reached out to pastors in small churches in particular to share his knowledge and expertise and skill to help them develop.

“There was nothing that he did that he held so close to himself that he didn’t feel like he could share it with somebody else,” Croston added. “Some people never share their success, but he was willing to share everything that he knew in order to help other pastors to do a great job and help their churches emerge as well.”

Croston counted McCalep as a great mentor and a great friend.

“His presence will certainly be missed. His shoes will never be filled,” he said.

In 2003, McCalep recounted in an interview with The Journal-Constitution how he was received at his first SBC annual meeting in 1980.

“I felt very alienated and lonely,” he said. “People got up and changed their seat when I sat down.”

Years later, 95 percent of the 20,000 messengers to the convention in Atlanta passed a resolution on racial reconciliation on the 150th anniversary of the SBC in 1995. Messengers agreed to “unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin,” and they apologized to people of African descent for “historic acts of evil such as slavery” and for “individual and systemic racism in our lifetime.”

McCalep told Baptist Press in 2003 that the apology was seen by some as insincere at the time.

“African Americans outside the Southern Baptist Convention did not acknowledge, receive or believe any sincerity to it at all,” he said. “And even in the [Southern Baptist] Convention among African Americans the question [rose], ‘What next?’

“For the most part, African Americans [in the SBC] appreciated the sentiment behind the apology,” McCalep added. “I was interviewed by CNN right after the vote was taken and I said to them that [the apology] was more meaningful to white Southern Baptists than to black Southern Baptists. We weren’t the ones in bondage.”

White Southern Baptists were set free by the apology, McCalep said, and if it had not passed, nothing would have changed for African Americans within the convention. The freedom came, he said, when white Southern Baptists acknowledged their sin.

McCalep was a native of Lawrence, Kan., and he excelled at football and tennis at Alabama A&M University, The Journal-Constitution said Dec. 28. Before entering the pastorate, he founded a brokerage firm and was a professor at Georgia State University.

He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Sadie Turner McCalep, and their three sons and five grandchildren, all of Decatur.

A funeral service was held at Greenforest Community Baptist Church Dec. 28.
With reporting by Karen L. Willoughby

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