To keep up with the changing Church, roles at the Board of Pensions have had to change. Take the Church Consultants. They used to be Regional Representatives, who were assigned based on synod boundaries and expected to help Benefits Plan members with medical claims and pension and death and disability concerns.
“When I was hired in 1998, I was a generalist, from dealing with presbyteries to churches to working with individuals having surgery,” said Clark Simmons, now Senior Church Consultant for the Southeastern United States. Based outside Atlanta, as he is now, he was a liaison between the Board and churches and church workers. “If bills weren’t getting paid, I would get involved,” said Clark, who routinely took part in three-way phone calls with a member and a Board benefits representative.
If Clark was more like a navigator for Benefits Plan members back then, today he’s more of a guide for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churches on benefits and assistance. The redesign of the plan in 2017 gave congregations coverage options, choices. The Consultants help them identify benefits that fit their budgets and meet the needs of their ministers and employees.
Today, the Consultants are assigned based on the boundaries of metropolitan areas with large concentrations of Presbyterians. Last year, Clark flew 41 round trips and drove hundreds of miles to serve 20 presbyteries in five states. He attends a meeting of each presbytery at least once a year. “At the presbytery meetings is where you can get out to all the churches,” he said. “It’s really about relationship building. Everything we do is in relationship.”
Clark was born for this kind of relationship building. He’s the sixth generation of his family to worship at the same Presbyterian church in Jackson, Mississippi. His father served on the Board of Directors of the Board of Pensions and his mother on the Board of Trustees of Columbia Theological Seminary, where Clark has his Board office.
But Clark didn’t need this history. He is warm and funny — and makes music. Presbyterians who don’t know him as a Church Consultant likely know him as the man at the piano when the hymns pop up on the screen at Board gatherings. Recently, when it was announced that Clark had received the Ernesto Badillo Award for Hospitality through Service, the Board’s highest employee honor, “congratulations” and “likes” stacked up on the Board’s Facebook page.
Clark graduated from Belhaven College, now Belhaven University, a Christian liberal arts school in Jackson. He started his career working for UPS in Atlanta. Before joining the Board, he was Director of Capital Campaign and Church Relations at Columbia seminary.
“Serving the Church and the people” is what drives Clark. Outside the Board, he’s an elder at Decatur Presbyterian Church, where he sings in the choir, chairs the capital campaign, and has served as Clerk of Session. He’s been on the Worship Committee of both his church and the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. And now, he’s also helping the Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM) with its capital campaign. “I know PAM, I love PAM, and I’m a musician,” he said with his usual enthusiasm.
Clark’s approach to being a Church Consultant reflects the changes underway in the PC(USA). “One of the things that I say, ‘You want to be the best church you can be, but now you have to be the best employer you can be,’” he said. “Staff is vital to a congregation being able to do the mission of their church. Those employees are giving us the stability to do the mission.”
The Board of Pensions has sent Clark and the other Church Consultants throughout the country to guide congregations and employers in supporting their ministers and employees with benefits. As Clark says, their mission depends on it.