In 2008, the West Granite neighborhood of Manchester, New Hampshire, was not what would normally be considered a desirable location. It had become the most troubled and deteriorated area of Manchester—with a high rate of neglected and foreclosed properties, absentee landlords, low homeownership and increased crime.
And yet, that was where Pastor Rich Clegg decided not only to work, but to raise a family—an unusually large and changing one: a biological daughter, four adopted children (including 8-year-old, wheelchair-bound twin boys with multiple developmental challenges) and one foster baby nearly 3 months old. Veteran foster parents, Clegg and his wife, Abbey, have sheltered 25 children over a period of eight years.
So…why choose such a distressed neighborhood for a church, when he already has so many “small” challenges at home?
“My dad and I were walking around in the neighborhood before we moved in,” recalls Clegg, who started and is senior pastor for the community’s Grace Haven Church. “A kid 4 or 5 years old came out and said, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ Then he changed his mind and said, ‘But you’re old and I don’t like old people.’ But it didn’t put me off. The neighborhood needed a church.”
Rich was familiar with neglected communities; he grew up in Wheaton, West Virginia—another rough, gritty steel town. He came to New Hampshire for seminary and stayed. Starting churches in distressed neighborhoods is a sort of a family mission, and West Granite fit the bill. When NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire adopted a revitalization plan for the neighborhood, he stepped up to become a moving force in its implementation. It was a natural fit in several ways, since the Cleggs bought their first home with the help of NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire.
As a member of the organization’s Community Services Committee, Clegg provided a grassroots connection to the neighborhood; he knew which properties were on the brink of foreclosure long before the bank made it public. His early involvement also helped build trust with residents, since many felt disenfranchised by the city. Clegg knocked on doors, encouraged residents to attend monthly meetings and helped form a neighborhood watch group. He also helped collect neighborhood data through a survey conducted door-to-door, initiated an after-school program for local youth, and organized clean-ups and block parties.
Rich Clegg: Following his calling
When NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire adopted a revitalization plan for the neighborhood, Rich Clegg stepped up to become a moving force in its implementation.
To date, the NeighborWorks New Hampshire-coordinated investment totaling $5 million has resulted in nine rehabilitated properties that have been sold to owner-occupants; demolition of two dilapidated buildings; preservation of 21 homes; and creation of additional, much-needed parking for the senior center. In the process, Clegg has become an integral part of NeighborWorks New Hampshire. He joined the board of directors in March 2012, later becoming treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee, followed by board chair.
Most recently, Clegg and his assistant pastor joined with several other local churches to support more than 200 refugees from Nepal who had moved into the neighborhood—connecting them with services to help find them jobs and offer transportation, as well as purchasing necessary items.
Meanwhile, his fledgling church has merged with another to become larger and more robust and today, the congregation draws people from all walks of life. In fact, they have sent a representative out to start a new church in another neighborhood that needed some “love.”