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Reflections on Mark Labberton, former senior pastor

    March 16, 2020 | Our Member's Stories by Jim Gilliand

     Serving on a search committee for a senior pastor at WPC can be an opportunity to investigate, in depth, the long, and short term, view of the congregation’s mission, various priorities of committees, the goals of clergy staff and numerous other interests.  Collectively, these elements are finalized in a Ministry Information Form, The MIF, as it is called, is the vehicle to inform candidates about the numerous details of WPC ranging from it’s Mission Statement, vision for ministry to details of the membership, demographics and the like. This very detailed document is designed to introduce candidates to the whole of WPC.  I note this about the MIF for a reason. Those interested candidates rely on that information to ascertain their  interest and their capability to successfully fill this position In 1990 I was asked to serve on the search committee for a senior pastor, head of staff. It is an immense responsibility, very time consuming and fraught with all types of concerns. It can become emotionally challenging near its end stages of the search. WPC is a well-known, relatively large congregation with a long history of meaningful worship and Christian outreach, as such, the search committee received and reviewed numerous applications.

    One such was quite unique. The candidate had served as an interim pastor of a Presbyterian church in Carmel. CA and prior to that as an Associate Pastor for a large church in Berkeley, CA.  A graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree plus a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Cambridge University in England, the candidate was a promising one based on both his educational and practical experience level. In due course we met and interviewed the Reverend Dr. Mark Labberton of Berkeley CA. Our immediate impression was a man of great intellect, a skilled preacher and an engaging personality, all factors that culminated in our extending a Call to  Dr Labberton and his acceptance in 1991. At that time I began to know Mark  both as pastor and friend. Our friendship has flourished to this day.

    Although his mentoring of our flock was short lived, our friendship continued. By coincidence, Mark was called as head of staff at First Presbyterian of Berkeley, CA, a diverse congregation located adjacent to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. One of his numerous member families was our son, Jim and his wife Vickie and their four children. They were very active members of that church. As I recall Jim. Jr and Mark would utilize each other’s talents to discuss issues of the church that were present at the time. We were fortunate to be able to visit San Francisco to visit our west coast family with some frequency, and in a number of those visits we attended services at First Pres. Mark’s ministry there was acknowledge as outstanding. Our family witnessed that over the years Mark served there. His collegial ministry was very timely and effective. In all this time, at Wayne and during our conversations in Berkeley I harbored the sincere conviction that Mark would be a great asset as an educator. His skills in that area, including a significant capability to communicate effectively were obvious to both our families and obviously to many others as well. This was obviously recognized by many throughout the west coast. In 2009 he joined Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena first as Professor of Preaching and then Director of Preaching. After that four-year role as educator in the field of preaching he was elected as President. He has served in that capacity since 2013 in one of our denominations outstanding seminaries.

    Our conversations are not frequent but always inspiring and enlightening to me, our denomination is fortunate and privileged to have Mark fulfil one of the most important positions in it. Mark is my friend, and a friend to countless others, and an inspirational representative of the mission of service to the current Presbyterian church but also to the future clergy and staffs of churches globally. It has been my privilege to know both he and Janet over these years.

    Jim Gilliland  3/16/2020