O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
In the President’s office at The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), there is a small Bible, its brown leather cover so aged and worn that, now and then, bits of it drop onto the small, silver communion plate where it rests. The President keeps this New Testament and Psalms Bible within reach of his desk.
The Bible reminds Frank Clark Spencer of who he is, of his grandfather, who carried the Bible as he preached throughout the rural pockets of southwest Virginia; of his father, who led Presbyterian institutions through periods of great change; of his pastors, who guided his spiritual journey; and of the family and friends whose lives and faith are bound with his. So strong are these bonds that promises made and oaths taken in other places and earlier times seemed present in the sanctuary of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church when the Presbytery of Charlotte (North Carolina) ordained him on February 7, 2015.
“We are known by God is the fundamental truth of our being,” the Reverend Frank Clark Spencer said in his benediction at the ordination service. “But as I look at those gathered here today, I have been known by each of you also.” His gaze ran to his family members and friends sitting shoulder to shoulder in the pews of Selwyn, his home church, and to those who took part in the service. “You have shaped me, challenged me, and nurtured me.”
Participating in the ordination service was the Reverend John B. Rogers Jr., who delivered the sermon. When he was 15, Rev. Spencer heard a sermon by Rev. Rogers at Davidson College Presbyterian Church that set the direction of his faith development. “John gave us permission to bring all questions to God,” Rev. Spencer wrote in his 2013 book, The Benefit of the Doubt: Claiming Faith in an Uncertain World. “The freedom that he gave me on that morning, has allowed me to explore a deepening relationship with God ever since.”
Another participant was the Reverend Rush Otey, who worked alongside Rev. Rogers those 40 years ago at Davidson College Presbyterian, where he was Rev. Spencer’s youth pastor. Today, he is his pastor at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church.
The assembled congregation represented many important parts of Rev. Spencer’s life: family and friends; Union Presbyterian Seminary; Montreat Conference Center; the Board of Pensions; Habitat for Humanity; Cogdell Spencer Inc.; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Davidson College; Seigle Avenue Presbyterian Church Wonderful Wednesdays; NEXT Church; the Presbytery of Charlotte; and, especially, the congregation of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Among those in the pews was the Reverend Pete Peery, past President of Montreat Conference Center, where Rev. Spencer served as Chair of the Board of Directors and interim President in 2008. Rev. Peery’s grandfather George Campbell Peery was Governor of Virginia from 1934 to 1938 — and a close friend of Rev. Spencer’s Presbyterian grandfather, whose worn Bible and tarnished communion plate reside in his office today. Rev. Spencer is named for his grandfather, the Reverend Frank E. Clark, who was called right out of Union Theological Seminary to minister in Buchanan County, Virginia.
“Not every church in Buchanan County had a pastor, so Sunday after preaching at his church in Grundy, my grandfather would grab one of his daughters, hop in the car, and head out with the Bible and the communion plate,” Rev. Spencer said. Rev. Clark would find worshippers waiting over potlucks and summer picnics to hear about the inheritance obtained in Christ, which Paul speaks of in Ephesians 1:3-12. The passage was read at the ordination service by John Baxter, who worked with Rev. Spencer at Habitat for Humanity, Charlotte, where he was President and CEO before being elected President of the Board of Pensions.
The Union roots run deep for Rev. Spencer. Not only was his grandfather a graduate (1908), his father, Dr. Samuel R. Spencer Jr., the 14th President of Davidson College, served as Chairman of its Board of Trustees for many years. And Rev. Spencer completed the Master of Divinity at the Charlotte campus of Union, now known as Union Presbyterian Seminary.
The Reverend Edward B. Newberry, who put to Rev. Spencer the series of constitutional questions required of ordination candidates in the PC(USA), served on the Union Board with Dr. Spencer. William L. Rikard Jr., a liturgist at the ordination, is the current Chair of the Union Board, a Davidson graduate, and friend to both Rev. Spencer and his late father.
All of the interlocking connections seemed to come into sharp focus as Mr. Rikard read Psalm 139 … In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
Rev. Spencer was presented for ordination, on behalf of the Board of Pensions, by the Reverend Dr. John G. McFayden, Vice President of Church Relations at the Board. “For such a time as this, I am convinced that God has called Frank,” Rev. McFayden said. “Undeniably, these are times of change in our Church and the Board of Pensions. … He will serve humbly and with enthusiasm.”
Rev. McFayden presented the candidate with a multicolored, floral tapestry stole, generous in its use of green to symbolize the focus on nurture and growth of the liturgical season Ordinary Time. The stole represents being yoked for service to Christ and the Church.
In a second symbolic investiture, Rev. Spencer received another, larger Bible that had belonged to his grandfather from first cousin Ann Clark, granddaughter of Rev. Clark. The brown leather cover, softened and discolored by time, protects gilt-edge pages holding both the Scripture and the Clark family birth records dating to 1795.
As he delivered his benediction, the stole draped across his dark suit, Rev. Spencer held the Clark family Bible in his left hand. “Relying on God’s grace, I am ready to embark on this ministry, confident that I will be sustained by two precious gifts, the Word of the Lord and the love of my brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.
Earlier, Rev. Spencer had been charged by Rev. Otey to “bring every bit of your intelligence, imagination, and love to your work every day.” He reminded the newly ordained teaching elder that being President of the Board of Pensions was not a job but a vocation. “Your work won’t save you, Frank, but your work, with help, may save others.”
Rev. Otey’s charge echoed a story he had told during the pronouncement about a teaching elder who entered the ministry in the 1950s and always worked at the minimum salary. “He was a follower of Jesus,” Rev. Otey said. When he retired, frail but spiritually well, his benefits enabled him and his wife to live modestly and pledge 10 percent of their income. The Board of Pensions saved their dignity and extended their lives, Rev. Otey said.
Rev. Otey’s charge rested on the shoulders of Rev. Spencer and lingered with those who have shaped, challenged, and nurtured him as everyone streamed from the sanctuary to the sounds of Charles-Marie Widor’s Toccata from Symphony No. 5. At the organ was John Siler, who had played the same recessional at the wedding of Rev. Spencer and Dr. Melanie Spencer, in 1983.