Until this year, politics was Mitch McClure's side project.
The Middle Valley Church of God pastor worked on several local political campaigns behind the scenes. On Jan. 27, McClure stepped into the limelight.
In a 7-1 vote, Hamilton County commissioners appointed McClure to the District 3 seat, where he'll represent an area that includes Hixson, Middle Valley and Lakesite.
County Commission, District 3
McClure, 53, makes clear that he sees a distinction between his roles in the pulpit and the commission dais. He's been the pastor at Middle Valley for 14 years.
"I think that the folks in my congregation, I don't want my being a county commissioner to impede on their worship ability," McClure said. "I don't want to do anything that would hinder that."
And yet the reasons he went into the ministry and the reasons he chose to become politically active are not dissimilar. He said his parishioners were "overwhelmingly excited" about his jump into public service.
"My calling in ministry is what I consider to be a divine and personal calling, and included in that calling is service to my community," McClure said. "By being a county commissioner I can as well help serve those in my community."
McClure is from Bradley County, Tenn., and he graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1975. But he got into politics even before that, working on LaMar Baker's unsuccessful 1974 re-election campaign for the 3rd Congressional District seat.
McClure said he had a calling to become a minister since he was 19.
He attended Cleveland State Community College and East Tennessee State in Johnson City, majoring in business administration and accounting. He graduated from Cleveland State in 1976 with an associate of science degree.
Over the next three decades he fleshed out his political, professional and spiritual resume.
He earned a master's degree from Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland when he was 40.
In the 1980s he worked for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, and then for Johnson and Pierson, an employee benefit consulting firm. He also worked as a bi-vocational minister during the 1980s.
In 1989 he became a full-time minister. His first job was at Lake Hills Church of God in Chattanooga. From there he moved to Clinton Church of God in Clinton, Tenn., and then Central Church of God in Knoxville. In 1997, he took on his current job at Middle Valley.
He also continued political work, saying he helped Jim Coppinger get elected to the District 3 commission seat in 2006. Coppinger was appointed county mayor in January to replace Claude Ramsey. McClure also campaigned for Assessor of Property Bill Bennett, for Ramsey and former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.
"Politics is nothing more than human relations," McClure said. "As pastor, I've been involved in government. It's a part of everyone's life and something I've had a keen interest in."
McClure mostly listened during his first month on the job, but he wants to fulfill some of the promises made by his predecessor. Coppinger left him with $274,000 in taxpayer-funded discretionary money, and McClure said he will use some of that for a soccer field at Hixson High School and a softball field at Soddy-Daisy High School.
He's also starting to form his own ideas. He said he wants to support another adult high school in Hamilton County, preferably at the old Hixson Middle School building.
In general, he wants to support public schools and public safety. Before joining the commission, McClure was a volunteer chaplain at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. However, he said he had to resign that position when he became a commissioner. He's been giving the opening prayer at commission meetings for years.
Sheriff Jim Hammond thinks highly of him. He said volunteer chaplains have to attend an 80-hour certification course, and McClure didn't shy away from that duty and was always visible at the sheriff's office leadership meetings.
"I think, like many pastors, he has to be someone who can listen to a wide range of concerns, just like a pastor has to talk to so many in his congregation," Hammond said. "I think chaplains in general have an edge sometimes, because they're already used to working with a number of people."
Former Lakesite Mayor Bob Mullin also gave commissioners a glowing recommendation of McClure.
"I sincerely believe that Mitch's record of community service is a natural extension of his many years of religious ministry and his current very successful leadership of the Middle Valley Church of God congregation," Mullin wrote. "In my judgment, he could have been a very successful businessman, but he choose a path of religious and volunteer public service."
Contact staff writer Dan Whisenhunt at email@example.com or 423-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DWhisenhunt.