The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is honored to announce that its President, Frank Clark Spencer, will be ordained as a teaching elder in the Presbytery of Charlotte (North Carolina) on February 7, 2015.
Since he assumed the presidency of the Board on July 1, 2014, Frank has conveyed a vision of optimism for the Church as well as for the Board’s role in upholding the covenant with PC(USA) teaching elders and in caring for other church workers.
Frank will be ordained at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church, which he attends with his wife, Dr. Melanie Spencer, and where he serves as a ruling elder. He will be the first teaching elder to lead the Board since the Reverend J. Phillips Noble served as Co-President with Arthur M. Ryan in 1987 and 1988.
“This will be a joyful day for me,” Frank said. “There is no question that the institution that we call the Presbyterian Church is deeply embedded in who I am, where I come from, and how I engage the world.”
Frank’s maternal grandfather, Frank E. Clark, was known as the Presbyterian Bishop of Buchanan County throughout the hills of southwest Virginia. The Reverend Clark had answered a call to minister in Grundy, the seat of Buchanan County, Virginia, after graduating in 1908 from Union Theological Seminary, now Union Presbyterian Seminary. In 1909, he opened the Grundy Presbyterian School, which he oversaw for many years, becoming widely loved across the region.
Rev. Clark’s daughter Ava married Samuel Reid Spencer Jr., who became the 14th President of Davidson College, and Frank grew up around the campus. His father presided over the school, established by Presbyterians in 1837, from 1968 to 1983, during which time the North Carolina institution went from all male to coed and stepped up recruitment and admission of minority students. Dr. Spencer also served as President of Mary Baldwin College, the oldest institution of higher education for women in the country affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, and as Chair of the Board of Trustees of Union.
It was in the Davidson College Presbyterian Church where, at age 15, Frank heard the Reverend John B. Rogers Jr. preach a sermon that set the direction of his faith development. “John gave us permission to bring all questions to God,” Frank wrote in his 2013 book, The Benefit of the Doubt: Claiming Faith in an Uncertain World, drawn from conversations with his six pastors, including Rev. Rogers. “The freedom that he gave me on that morning, has allowed me to explore a deepening relationship with God ever since.”
In The Benefit of the Doubt, Frank showed a sensitivity to the demands placed on teaching elders that underlies his Board leadership. “I hoped to create room for all ordained clergy to express openly the struggles and triumphs that are inherent in all faithful ministry,” he wrote. At the Board, Frank has repeatedly stressed the agency’s critical role in supporting teaching elders, who are essential to the life of any congregation.
The Book of Order says a call “shall include participation in the benefits plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” That is a promise from the Church to be there for teaching elders. It is the pivotal promise, Frank said, upheld by the Board of Pensions and allowing seminarians to make the choice to serve the Church. “This is so important for the Church,” he said.
Thousands of those who serve the Church get healthcare and death and disability benefits, retirement pensions, emergency financial assistance, and educational opportunities through the Board. For Frank, the overarching challenge for the Board is to figure out how to serve more servants of the Church.
“When I received the call to serve as President of the Board of Pensions, I thought about my father and especially about my grandfather,” Frank said. “My grandfather’s ministry was rooted in a growing Presbyterian concern for the people of the Southern Highlands. They sent Frank Clark to a hardscrabble place.”
Message of Hope
“The message of hope, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is needed today as much as it was in my grandfather’s time,” Frank said. “The heart of the message is transformation — through God, all things are possible. And the act of ordination is one of hope, not for us, but rather for the Church itself.”
More than 35 years have passed since Frank sat in the pew at Davidson, captivated by Rev. Rogers’ sermon. He has completed the work required for a Master of Divinity at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Charlotte. He earned a B.A. with honors in German from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he was a Morehead Scholar, and graduated from Harvard Business School as a Baker Scholar. He gained 30 years’ experience in organizational leadership, finance, and commercial real estate development at for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
Confirmed by the 221st General Assembly (2014), Frank served two years on the Board of Directors of the Board of Pensions. He sat on the Investment and Audit and Compliance committees, resigning as a Director prior to being elected President. In 2011-2013, he was on the national NEXT Church Strategy Team, and he has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Montreat Conference Center and interim President of Montreat (2008). He has been a deacon as well as a ruling elder and taught Sunday school to both adults and children.
“I love the Presbyterian Church,” Frank said. “I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to serve those who serve the Church and, that soon, I’ll be able to do so as an ordained teaching elder.”