MIDWEST CITY — A health ailment has impaired a local pastor's voice, but his call to ministry remains true.
The Rev. Charles McDade, 64, recently retired from Soldier Creek Baptist Church, where he had been senior pastor for 31 years. About two years ago, his vocal cords began thinning, and his body rejected a vocal implant.
McDade and his wife, Linda, said they made the painful decision to end his pastoral ministry in April, hoping to limit his extended speaking engagements.
But his other call — to serve as the Midwest City Fire Department's chaplain — is stronger than ever.
“A preacher is a proclaimer. A chaplain is a listener,” McDade said, smiling.
“We're very excited about the new opportunity to minister in a different field.”
Called to serve
McDade and his wife of 43 years are Oklahoma City natives. Charles McDade, also known as “Chuck,” said he grew up in the Crutcho area and graduated from Northeast High School. He said he was a 20-year-old student at Central State University, now the University of Central Oklahoma, when the Lord called him to the ministry.
McDade's first church was First Baptist Church of Mulhall, and he went from there to lead Leonardtown Baptist in Leonardtown, Md.
He said he was called to pastor Soldier Creek Baptist in 1981. Linda McDade said the couple's three children were toddlers at the time. Charles McDade said he thought he would be with the church 10 years.
“Instead I was there for 31 years,” he said.
Under McDade's leadership, the congregation built a new church building and expanded its complex at 9020 SE 15, among other things.
But McDade's legacy goes far beyond the exterior growth, several Soldier Creek members said.
“His legacy is steadfastness and faithfulness,” Linda Stewart, the church's minister of education, said. “Personally, I was saddened that God had chosen this path for him. I watched that struggle, but once he realized that this was God's will for him, he had a peace about him.”
Ed Tatum, another church member, said McDade tops his personal list of people who have been faithful to the Lord.
“I was sad that he was leaving because we can't replace him, that's for sure,” Tatum said. “He's been a part of all our lives.”
A passionate voice
McDade said he first started losing his voice about 18 months ago. He said he initially thought his troubles were caused by allergies because his voice “would come and go,” but he discovered his vocal cords were thinning after a trip to the doctor.
“I would be talking, and then it (voice) would disappear,” he said.
McDade said he and his wife and family prayed for his healing. He said he was dedicated to his pastoral ministry and had planned to retire at age 70. The McDades decided he would have surgery to insert a vocal implant in February 2011. The implant surgery was successful, and the preacher enjoyed four to five months of pulpit ministry.
Then McDade said his vocal cords began hurting, and he found that they were inflamed and swollen. He learned during another visit to the doctor that the pain was the result of his body rejecting the implant.
McDade said he made the decision to have the implant removed in March and announced his retirement.
“It was kind of a grieving process,” he said. “I've been a pastor for over 40 years, and the people here, they weren't just a congregation, they were my family.”
The church held a big retirement celebration for the McDades on April 28. The couple said they saw so many people whose lives have intersected with their own over the years.
Several people from the Midwest City Fire Department attended the event, but Charles McDade said he expects to see many of them in the coming months and years. That's because he will continue as chaplain of the fire department.
McDade said he started as chaplain in 1992, and now his chaplaincy post will take priority.
Ministry of compassion
As “Chaplain Chuck,” McDade will continue to offer a ministry of presence and a compassionate arm to the many men and women he encounters at the fire department.
“Before, I was able to go on Thursdays each week, but now I will see every shift every week,” he said. “I will be there three days a week. I'll make some runs with them and do many things with them. If they're sweeping the station, I'll get a broom.”
McDade said he was chaplain in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing and became trained in Critical Incident Stress Management, which is designed to help first responders cope with stress. The 1995 terrorist attack seemed to solidify the department's commitment to having a chaplain, he said.
Then, in 1999, a Midwest City firefighter named Jim Clark died after being hurt at the scene of a traffic accident. McDade said he was familiar with counseling grieving family members from his church after the death of a loved one. Clark's death emphasized that the fire department was a similar type of family, on a larger scale.
“It was like dealing with a 6-foot surge of water versus a 100-foot surge of water,” McDade said.
“It was one of those times that defined the chaplaincy.”
He said he had begun to build relationships with firefighters, and this bond helped immensely as the department grieved the loss of one of its own.
McDade said he still sees the Lord's plan at work in his life.
“I think He had a plan, and that plan would be that I move from pastoral ministry to chaplaincy ministry,” McDade said. “We absolutely rejoice that we got to be at Soldier Creek for 31 years. We will always have ties to this church.”
“A preacher is a proclaimer.
A chaplain is a listener.”