It would be easy to name the churches that Ben Sparks has served, list the baptisms, recall the weddings, remember the funerals, appreciate his faithful service to presbyteries and synods, as well as to the church as a whole. Ben is without a doubt hitting his stride.
But that would be the easy part. There is no difficulty in adding the numbers and citing the impressive facts. What is far more important is the distinctive character of the service that he has given to all of these. And there is still more. It is the special quality of life that both he and Annette contribute to all of these activities that make the essential difference.
In some respects it was a natural thing for Ben to become involved with The Presbyterian Outlook. Second Church had not only been the closest neighbor to the Outlook but also its supportive landlord for many years. And as the senior pastor there, Ben had assumed the responsibility of being a special friend and guardian of the publication.
When it moved from the church premises to a nearby office suite, Ben’s commitment moved right there with it. Over the course of the years he served on the Board of Directors, chaired important committees, oversaw its work as board president, and helped to guide the important transitions that have led the Outlook to its present place in the life of the church.
Three things have been particularly notable. The first was the decision to restructure the Board and to move to limited terms. The second was the elimination of The Outlook Book Service, in response to the changing environment in Internet sales. And the third was the intentional commitment to add representatives to the board from other areas of the church. Before, most directors were Richmond area church leaders. Now they are men and women from diverse backgrounds and from New York, Colorado, California and Oregon, and other states as well.
In addition, Ben rose to the occasion when he was especially needed. Following the successful editorial leadership of Robert Bullock, the Outlook board asked Ben to serve as interim editor.
It would be a time of transition, and, like a church needing an interim pastor, The Presbyterian Outlook needed vigorous leadership while it formed some new plans. Using his day off, refusing remuneration, supported again by Second Church, Ben took over the editorial helm.
Here is how Ben’s contribution has helped us all. He stayed in contact with influential church leaders, he developed special publication issues, he solicited contributions that informed the discussion and he tirelessly provided editorials.
But there is finally still more to be said. As all who know Ben would agree, it is Ben’s theological integrity, his deep wisdom about the church, and his gracious concern for individuals that can never be measured. Ben understands the Outlook‘s mission as an independent voice, one which can be trusted to report the truth as perceived, and one in which the editor speaks with courage and conviction. As interim editor, Ben’s stewardship of the Outlook’s independent voice has served the church’s mission with wisdom and distinction.
Richard A. Ray is a former pastor, professor, and managing director/editor of John Knox Press (retired). He currently resides in North Carolina, and is general editor of the Kerygma Bible Studies. He serves as president of the Board of Directors, The Presbyterian Outlook.