Written by Michelle May
A self-described “church geek” addressed General Synod delegates on Monday morning, seeking to serve the United Church of Christ as its next Associate General Minister. W. Mark Clark told the assembly, “Our message and ministry of continuing testament, extravagant welcome and changing lives is so important in today’s world.
Clark, 57, reflected on the recent closure of the First Congregational Church UCC in Tucson, Ariz., where he had been a lay leader. The resources from the closure, Clark said, will support the founding of a new church in the Southwest Conference committed to the message and ministry of the UCC. “We have to do something totally different, and it may be something we really don’t want to do. But we have to do it.”
Why seek a position that would take him from the sunny Southwest to Cleveland, one which may disappear in two years? From the podium, Clark recalled his experience in Atlanta in 2005 as a first-time Synod visitor. During the vote on the Marriage Equality resolution, he found his hand gripped by members of a youth delegation, and as they held hands they prayed. When the affirmative vote was announced, they cried.
“It is for those young people, and the countless others in our churches, young and old, and those new folks to come, that I want to do this work.”
Clark has served as president and chief executive officer of CODAC Behavioral Health Services, Inc. in Tucson. CODAC is a nonprofit managed behavioral health-care organization based in Pima County, serving 12,000 individuals annually with a staff of 325 and a budget of $36 million.
A lifelong member of the UCC, Clark has been active at all settings of the church. In college, he worked as an intern with the campus ministry and spent a year as director of Christian education at Flagstaff Congregational UCC. He has been a member of five UCC congregations in two Conferences and served on four of those church councils.
Clark also chaired the Southwest Conference Minister Search Committee. While on the Board of Directors of the Office of General Ministries, he chaired its Budget and Finance Committee and served as an OGM Board representative to the Executive Council (2005-2009). He also served as chair of the Executive Council’s Committee of Reference for General Synod 27.
At the hearing Sunday evening on his candidacy, the Rev. Allen McCarty spoke highly of Clark. “I was the pastor who showed up at First Congregational when Mark was president of the church youth group,” McCarty said. “His mother came up to me one day and said, ‘Allen, you’ve got to talk to Mark and keep him from spending so much time at church, he’s got to keep a job.’
“It really speaks to Mark,” said McCarty. “You just don’t run into young people like that who are so dedicated. He was constantly dedicated.”
McCarty recalled a time when Clark was at a crossroads, his discernment ending painstakingly when he opted not to pursue ordained ministry. “There was a sense of pain, of loss, when he had decided it wasn’t going to be the direction he was going to go,” said McCarty.
“I told him, ‘We just can’t leave the church to the ordained clergy. It’s too important,’” said McCarty. “It’s the lay leaders like Mark who bring what they bring to the table, that’s going to keep us a healthy church.”