By Mimi Wood for The Island Eye News
Having served 20 years as a chaplain in the United States Navy, Lieutenant Commander, USN Ret. Phil Clark, the new pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on Isle of Palms, is “getting used to ‘island time’.” Things are a tad slower here, considering, for instance, his first six months of duty, when he covered over 50,000 nautical miles aboard an aircraft carrier. Back then he coordinated 38 worship services per week, providing resources for any type of faith denomination.
“As the new kid on the block, my fellow clergy informed me that I would be preaching off the back of a flatbed tractor trailer, overlooking the harbor in Gladstone, Australia,” he recalls of his first Easter in the Navy. “The local Anglican priest introduced me ‛as a Yank’ to the crowd of 5,000 stating, ‘You’re going to love his accent!’ I had no choice but to open with ‘Good Morning, All Y’all!’” and the crowd went nuts.
Brimming with energy and fresh ideas, Pastor Clark doesn’t appear to have slowing down on his agenda. For example, take Holy Week. In addition to a footwashing service on Maundy Thursday, (which, p.s., was a breeze at St. Mark’s, after once washing the feet of 120 Marines) the Easter Vigil service involves a candlelit procession from Third Ave. and Ocean Blvd. to the church, led by a bagpiper. “We end up with a full candlelit illumination service in a tent. We try to evoke a sense of Christ’s walk from the darkness of The Cross into the light of The Resurrection,” he explains.
And once again the new kid in town, Pastor Phil was given the opportunity to preach at the sunrise ecumenical service on Easter Sunday, at Breach Inlet.
Reverend Herman R. Yoos, Bishop of the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recommended Pastor Clark to St. Mark’s congregation as a permanent replacement for Reverend Bonnie Mefferd, who retired in 2016 after 13 years of service. Since then two interim pastors have served. “St. Mark’s was the only congregation I interviewed with who said their primary concern was finding a pastor to help them grow spiritually, and guide them in community outreach,” remarked Clark.
Clergy from neighboring island churches have been quick to welcome Pastor Phil, all looking to work in conjunction with each other, and reach out where people need it most.
“So, that means Jesus may be traveling,” he quips, “as we’re going to take the love of God where it’s needed.”
“At age 17,” Pastor Clark reminisces, “I knew I wanted to go into a helping profession, be it a doctor, a farmer or a teacher.” He distinctly remembers hearing the “call of God.” Eager to respond, and immediately enter the seminary, he was told he had to first obtain a Bachelors degree. “So, I majored in Business Administration. The financial mindset of many clergy is, ‘God will provide’. I thought, ‘Yes, God will provide, but it might not be a bad thing to have knowledge of the tools He’s going to need’,” Pastor Clark grins, recalling the pragmatic rationale for his major.
Founded in 1952, St. Mark’s is one of the oldest congregations east of the Cooper. Church Council President Tom Proctor enthuses, “Phil’s a Godsend. He’s got some good ideas that are really cool; we’ve already started to implement some of his programs.”