Meet the preacher who left Hilton Head for Kingsport

Meet the preacher who left Hilton Head for Kingsport

This time last year, everyone wondered who would take the top spot at First Broad Street United Methodist Church, after the senior pastor announced his retirement.

Maybe they didn’t expect Clark Jenkins, who wasn’t a native of Holston Conference but of South Carolina. Jenkins was appointed as senior pastor of the Kingsport congregation in June 2007, following the Rev. Pierce “Jack” Edwards.

However, Jenkins knew about the active east Tennessee church long before most Holston members knew about him. From 1983 to 1990, the Rev. Jenkins was pastor of three small churches in impoverished Johns Island, S.C., where mission work teams from First Broad Street UMC frequently came to serve. Jenkins helped start a free medical clinic for migrant workers on Johns Island.

During those years, the pastor witnessed the commitment of First Broad Street mission workers, and he remembers thinking, “That is the kind of church I want to serve.”

Today, the 54-year-old, third-generation pastor is leading the fourth largest congregation in Holston Conference, with 2,597 members and 837 in average worship attendance. On Jan. 6, the congregation moved into a new building, with staff offices and 25 sparkling new Sunday school classes.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the life of this congregation,” Jenkins says of his flock. “We’ve got a visioning team that’s on fire.”

Not that Jenkins came from an unsavory situation. Prior to arriving in Kingport, he served for three years as pastor at St. Andrews-by-the-Sea United Methodist Church in Hilton Head, S.C.

“I had no intention of going anywhere,” he says, smiling. “It was Hilton Head. Who wants to leave Hilton Head?”

Located in an affluent community, the St. Andrews church had gained 100 new members within three years, for a total 800 members. Average worship attendance was 600 and 90 percent white.

“You couldn’t find a seat or a parking place,” he said. “The church was growing.”

When the pastor/parish relations committee at First Broad Street presented a leadership possibility to the South Carolina pastor, he says his focus was on God’s calling.

“It wouldn’t be the ego that drove me to this big church,” he said. “I had to humble myself before God. Humility isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. I wanted to be obedient to God, and I felt God had called me to this special place.”

The church’s zeal for missions still seems to awe him. First Broad Street, says Jenkins, is a “signature congregation.” “It’s a signature congregation because they’re open to mission and ministry."

On this day, for example, Jenkins is readying for an afternoon meeting that will culminate in his church’s commitment to finance a new building for a small sister church. Nearby Community United Methodist Church is reaching out to neighboring low-income children, but they need help. An anonymous giver at First Broad Street has stepped up.

The pastor cites other missions for which the Kingsport congregation is known. They collect and restore furniture and appliances in a warehouse, delivering them to needy families on request. Each fall, a group travels to Cherokee, N.C., to cut and deliver firewood for Native American communities. The church has home-repair ministries, food ministries, and clothing ministries.

Jenkins says that he and Mayor Dennis Phillips are “in conversation” about using the church’s Carpenter’s Helpers – a group of dedicated retired men who give up personal time to participate in a highly organized home-repair ministry -- to aid in the overall revitalization plan for Kingsport.

On Feb. 22-24, the Kingsport church will host its annual Missions Celebration, which this year features Bishop Daniel Wandabula from the East Africa Conference and Bishop Felton May, interim general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries.

The fact that First Broad Street is 99 percent white – and he is African-American – has not been an issue, Jenkins said. He personally came from a “black church experience,” until he was appointed Spartanburg District superintendent in South Carolina.

“This fear of cross-racial appointments – we need to get on with it. Blood is red. From day one, these have been the most gracious people I have ever encountered,” he said, referring to the Kingsport congregation.

In addition to his varied experience in black and white congregations, poor and affluent, Jenkins served South Carolina as a General Conference delegate for two terms, a Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference delegate for four terms. He has served on the denomination’s General Board of Church and Society for the past four years.

He has two children: Carmel, 27, a neonatal nurse in Columbia, S.C., and Jeremy, 26, a Bank of America employee in Charlotte, N.C. His wife, Carolyn, is currently finishing the school year as information technologist and media specialist at Hilton Head High School. She will join her husband permanently in Kingsport this summer.

Annette Spence is editor of THE CALL.