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Snapshots of well-traveled pastor’s life
by Bill Clough
Aug 25, 2012 | 1280 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Rev. Mark Spence, pastor of Providence Presbyterian, is retiring this Sunday, Aug. 26.
The Rev. Mark Spence, pastor of Providence Presbyterian, is retiring this Sunday, Aug. 26.
slideshow
This Sunday, when the Rev. Mark Spence conducts the service at Providence Presbyterian Church, he may find it difficult to follow the liturgical routine because of the memories.

A career played back as a filmstrip probably is natural when you retire. This Sunday is his last day for the 62-year-old.

Among the scrapbook of images is Beeville in 1954, when Spence and his father moved here to open a shoe store.

Then there is the one of being graduated from A.C. Jones High School in 1968.

In the next, the soft light of South Texas is replaced by the harsh, specular light of the Texas Panhandle, where he attended college at Texas Tech starting in 1968.

“I moved there,” he explains, “to be near my family members.”

He began as a business administration major then switched to history.

He was graduated in 1972 with a B.A. in history but, by then, he already knew he was going to head in a different direction.

“In 1970, I got the call,” he says. “It felt like it was something important.”

He spent a year at seminary in Jackson, Miss., then transferred to a Presbyterian seminary in Austin. He received his master’s in divinity in 1976.

But not before taking a year’s internship in 1975 at Grace Presbyterian in Corpus Christi, where he married his wife, Karen.

The next two snapshots are of churches where he served in Odessa and Taft.

Then, in 1978, he heeded another call, this time from the United States Air Force.

“I became an Air Force chaplain,” he says. “I tried to become a Navy chaplain, but the people at Chase Field kept losing my paperwork.”

The Air Force didn’t lose his paperwork. It sent him to chaplain school in Montgomery, Ala.

“It was a smooth transition,” he remembers. “Being in the military, you didn’t have a lot to say about your housing or your posting.”

Indeed.

The next snapshot is of the Air Force’s base in Sumpter, S.C.

The next is all white: Greenland.

“I spent a year there. I got there in July of 1981. We had 22 hours of daylight. By December, we had only two hours of daylight, well, twilight, really.”

He remembers the Atlantic touching half-a-mile of gravel shoreline and then an ice cliff that looked “like the white cliffs of Dover.”

“The Air Force called this a ‘remote’ assignment, and they weren’t kidding. Letters and newspapers were always three weeks old.”

The next snapshot shows the heat of San Antonio, where he served for two years as a hospital chaplain at Lackland AFB.

The next snapshot was supposed to be in Europe.

“I was told I was going to Germany,” Spence says. “But instead, I was sent to Grand Forks, N.D., to be a chaplain for guys in the missile silos.”

He spent two years visiting the underground missile silos.

Looking back at the assignments, he realized he had spent quite a lot of time alone: in Greenland, in North Dakota.

“It was time for a change. I decided to get off of active duty.”

Spence and his wife accepted the pastorship of the Presbyterian Church in Alpine. They were there for four years.

The next snapshot is their church in Sweetwater.

The Air Force recalled him to active duty shortly after 9/11; he spent a year at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, often servicing those underground at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Cheyenne Mountain.

Then the scrapbook of memories gets local. He moved to the First Presbyterian Church in Beeville.

“It had been 14 years since I was in Beeville. It was good to be back.”

But in the next eight years, the seismic waves from a great doctrinal schism in the Presbyterian church began to rattle the Spence household in Beeville.

The local church was under the guidance of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA).

Like the Episcopalians and the Lutherans, congregations found themselves split into opposing camps: those who tolerated the ordination of women and gays, and those who didn’t.

In 2006, Spence led 26 members of First Presbyterian congregation away to join the more conservative Presbyterian Church of America.

“At first, we met every Sunday in the Best Western.”

Today, they worship at Providence Presbyterian.

In the Presbyterian scheme of things, the PCA is a minority church. The ratio in the United States is one PCA church for every six PCUSA churches.

The same ratio is true of congregations. Nationwide, the PCUSA claims 2 million members; PCA membership is slightly more than 360,000.

The rest of the snapshot scrapbook is blank but soon may have pictures from the Hill Country. Spence is moving to Kerrville, where he hopes to help establish more PCA congregations.

He is being replaced by the Rev. George Lacey, who will be in the congregation this Sunday.

“That doesn’t often happen,” Spence says. “It just worked out, so Sunday is going to remind me a little bit of the military. With George there, it’s going to be a change of command ceremony.”

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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