Remembering Brent Clark

I wrote this originally as a letter to our CHBC staff, but then realized this letter also could provide the general CHBC family some context to Brent Clark and his influence on our church for almost a decade between 2001-2010 when he served first as our Church Administrator and later as our Pastor for Administration.

I hope you’ll consider joining us for a memorial service honoring and remembering him this Thursday – June 17 – at 2 pm in the Sanctuary.

Emily Williams
Former Church Administrator

I realized when talking to a couple of you that most of the current CHBC staff were not here when Brent was on staff, so you don’t really know much about his career while here. I thought I’d tell you about some of the things I remember so that you will know more about Brent and also know more about me.

Brent Clark
Brent Clark

Brent was a deacon for one term before he came on staff. He was the personnel deacon, and led a salary study for pastoral salaries. He was also the personnel deacon when Jim A. resigned, and managed the logistical part of that. We were in the construction project at that point (for the original building here at 260 Erwin Road), and I know that Randy and the deacons were thinking about how the management and administration for the church would be handled once we moved into the new building – a larger space, and we anticipated a much larger church body, bigger budget, bigger maintenance and facilities management responsibilities, and so on. 

Hiring Brent to be the Church Administrator was a huge coup for us. He was perfect for the job. A CPA, with experience in the non-profit world (he was the business/financial manager for the UNC Alumni Association before working for CHBC), a friendly, funny, smart, faith-filled guy who was a great person to add to our staff team. That was in early 2001, and Brent managed and organized the move from 1200 Mason Farm Road to 260 Erwin Road that summer, and most significantly, hired Donna (as bookkeeper) and Matthew (as facilities manager). As you know, those were key hires, and we have been so blessed to have them as part of the team for all these years.

During those next few years, Brent overhauled several of our business office operations to make them more correct and more suitable for a large church/large budget operation. He changed some of our not-exactly-kosher benefits policies to be correct and legal. He changed the ministry expense set up to save the pastors the tax money on those funds. He set up spreadsheets and reports and the accounting system and did payroll and managed the retirement funds and health insurance. He brought us from being a small church, mom-and-pop kind of set up to being a full-fledged business operating with financial controls and adherence to generally accepted accounting practices. 

In 2004 I started working as a part-time admin for Matthew. I loved working for Matthew in the facilities area. I loved programming the HVAC and getting the building schedule to work well. 

After a year or so (when he became Pastor for Administration), Brent asked me if I wanted to work full time and become his admin, too, and I said yes – so I started full time in March or April of 2006. I loved being Brent’s admin (and still was Matthew’s, too). I loved how Brent went about his work. He was very detail-oriented, was very meticulous. His integrity was unimpeachable. His reports were not just accurate and correct, but they were also laid out in such a way as to help the lay-person understand better what was being shown. He loved Excel, loved spreadsheets in general. He was the one who taught me to use different colors of paper for different documents in a packet of handouts. It was much easier, he said, to get a group to all look at the yellow sheet than to all look at the same white sheet when all the sheets were the same color. 

I learned so much from him, things that made me able and competent to do the Church Administrator job eventually. I learned about the operations of the church, and also watched him relate to people and how he led people to be more confident, to feel cared for, to be more able to do their work with excellence.

One of the things he loved was all of our birthdays. He loved gathering all of the staff except the birthday celebrant in some part of the corridor or some nook in the hallway, and then lure the birthday person to come, unsuspecting, to be sung to by the group who would burst out of hiding. I remember once he gathered all of us together, and then he ran by Matthew’s office shouting, “Matthew! Parking lot!” Matthew in a panic sprang out of his office and ran after Brent down the hall, only to be surrounded by all of us singing Happy Birthday. I wonder if Matthew aged an extra year or two that time!  

Brent did not like it when people clicked their ball-point pens over and over. You know, when someone is just playing with it, pushing that button over and over without realizing they are doing it? One time all of the admin staff agreed to bring ball point pens to the admin huddle. We held them below the table level and clicked them one at a time. He would look toward the sound, and then someone on the other side of the table clicked theirs. We enjoyed plaguing him with the clicking sound that day.

On a normal day, Brent would move at a reasonable pace around the offices. He always wore dress shoes with hard soles, so we could hear his footsteps as he walked. But even if we did not know it in any other way, we could always tell when he was a day or two away from going on vacation, because he would move at a brisk, purposeful pace. We could hear it all through the office. “Brent must be going to be on vacation soon,” we would say. 

In November of 2006, Brent had an odd migraine one day. He had trouble with his speech. He had occasional migraines before, but this time it seemed different. I drove him home and suggested to Cindy that maybe he should go see a doctor. A day or two later she took him to his primary doctor, and he referred him to a neurologist, just to be safe. It was probably nothing, just a slightly different manifestation of the usual kind of migraines that Brent had. So a few days later she went with him to that, and the neurologist sent him for an MRI, just to be sure there was nothing unusual going on. We were shocked to learn from that that Brent had a brain tumor. A very small one, probably benign, but right near the language area of the brain. This was devastating and frightening. Surgery was scheduled for early January. “You will look back on this after six months and just see it as a little speed bump. As brain tumors go, this is the best kind to have, in a very easy place to get to it.” The Clarks had family photos taken. They had a nice Christmas together (Emma and Benjamin were in high school). 

Recovery from brain surgery is no joke. It is true that he was back in the office part time after just four weeks.  But it took months, even more than a year, for him to be back to effective functioning in many ways. 

For a year after his brain surgery he was not allowed to drive. This was because he had had two seizures, each of which cost him six months of driving. Most of the time I picked him up and took him home. 

He had trouble for a while with words (the tumor had been close to the language center). One manifestation of that was that he would get a word in his head and he would use it all the time. One of his favorites was “journey.” Everything could be described as a journey. We are on the budget-planning journey. We will take a journey toward prayer ministry. Another word he used a lot (which he still did for the rest of his life) was the word “calm.” When he described someone as calm, it was high praise. It seemed to mean reasonable, a good listener, pleasant … 

He was hitting his stride again by the time we had George Cladis as a consultant starting in early 2009 (after Mark Acuff resigned). Through the very difficult season of that financially-challenging time for the church, including the layoffs, he was back to “normal.” He led the team that worked out the adjustments to staffing, which decided not to fill some open ministry-level positions and to lay off two support-staff people. It was a necessary measure to save our financial situation, but it was very painful. 

He went on leave of absence in March, 2010, to care for his mother who had broken her hip and had a cancer diagnosis, and resigned his position later that year. (I became Church Administrator in role when Brent went on leave, and by title on June 1 that year.)

Brent saw abundance everywhere. There was no shortage of praise and kudos. No amount of success that someone else had diminished the potential success that he could have, or anyone else could have. He praised often, specifically and publicly.

As I think about all of the wonderful things that were said to me about my time on staff at CHBC, last December when I was retiring, I am very clear that many of those characteristics that you praised in me originated in Brent mentoring and coaching me, teaching me. Because many of you did not know Brent as the Church Administrator or Pastor for Administration, but only knew me in the CA role, you don’t realize how much my best work was modeled after and based on Brent’s work before me. If you look at the “owner” data of several of the spreadsheets that we use still in the business and administration of the church, you will see Brent’s name. The structure of the formulas are the way Brent conceived of the calculations that were needed. The layout, the summary pages, the headers, are largely Brent’s ideas. The concept of an Admin Huddle, the deacon orientation that we used for many years, the structure of the budget summary with a supporting detail document for the annual meeting voting by membership, these were developed or refined by Brent. The value of transparency, the emphasis on clarity, the ideals of leadership were all demonstrated to me by Brent. So much of what I was able to do to contribute to the smooth running of the church from an administrative and organization standpoint was based on things I saw in Brent. 

Over the past years Brent and I continued to get together from time to time at Carolina Brewery. We talked over our work situations and gained perspective and advice from each other. We connected about our faith, our families, our hopes and fears. After we had had a beer together Cindy and Byron would usually join us for supper, and we would all have a fun time. Over this past Covid year we agreed that we were one family who lived in two houses. We had a regular Friday night supper and games with them for the past many months. 

This past Sunday, June 13, was the first Sunday that Cindy and Brent had been back to church since the beginning of Covid other than December 13, the day that I was recognized as retiring. They were excited about going, and spent some time that afternoon talking together about what ministries they would get involved in with things opening up again. They were happy to be fully vaccinated and feel able to come to church and not be limited to the online service. 

I hope that these recollections help you know Brent as he was while he worked here. After he left the Pastor for Administration role, he became the Director of Finance of Trinity School, a position he held until … until now. He was loved and respected here at CHBC, at his prior positions, and at Trinity, where I am sure he will be deeply missed and so hard to replace. He threw his whole heart into his work and embodied leadership through service and a deep faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He was one of my closest friends, a friendship that began before we worked at CHBC, and was deepened by our shared love for our church during and after our employment here.