AN ANSWERED PRAYER

From the despair of a corporate lay-off, Ed Holland became the nation’s top church administrator

By TIM FUNK

Fifteen years ago, Ed Holland ’75 was lost. Holland, then 47 and a senior vice president at Bank of America, had gone to work on Aug. 1, 2000, with plans that night to mark his 25th wedding anniversary. But at 8:30 a.m., his boss told him he was being laid off – as part of a cost-cutting move that would leave 10,000 people without jobs.

Holland, in a daze, said he left the building, got in his car, and ended up at his church. Sitting in the front row of the empty sanctuary, weeping, feeling betrayed and suddenly uncertain about his future, Holland hoped God would say something to him.

Early the following year, he was hired to be the administrator of that church, Friendship Missionary Baptist, one of Charlotte’s largest and most prominent. In July, he and wife Debbie marked their 40th year of marriage. And one of the things they celebrated is his recent award as national Church Administrator of the Year.

In the past 14-plus years, Holland has gone from working in personnel at the bank to making sure all things go just right at the African-American church of more than 8,000 members whose senior pastor, the Rev. Clifford Jones Sr., is a leading figure in the city’s faith community. Holland considers his transition – capped by the award from The Church Network – to be God’s answer to his plea for help on that sobering day in 2000.

“Bank of America eliminated Ed Holland’s job for business reasons, to maximize profits,” Holland said. “But God took that and my experience at the bank and used it for good. And he put it on my heart: I had some (other job) options out there. But when I closed my eyes at night, I knew I would feel better working here at the church and doing something good every day.”

In moving from a world of profits to one of prophets, Holland said he now measures his effectiveness on the job by how smoothly things flow at the church – especially on Sundays. He manages and monitors everything from traffic control in the parking lot to the nursery staff to the lights, temperature and sound in the sanctuary.

“I describe my job as the back-room guy,” said Holland, whose team includes 20 full-time employees and a floating number of Sunday part-timers. “We’re the people who should be invisible. And if we’re not, that’s a problem. If everything goes well, we’ve done our job.”

Anything less than a job well done – say, faulty sound during the sermon – can detract from members’ worship experience. “I get my joy,” Holland said, “out of seeing everyone enjoy that experience and knowing that I and our team were part of that.”

He tells maintenance workers that their job is really the beginning of the worship experience. When they go into the sanctuary and clean it up, he said, they’re preparing that place for church members to commune with God.

EdHolland

Ed Holland ’75 takes a break from his duties as church administrator of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

Holland said it’s his job, too, to try to keep costs down. That way, there’s more money for ministry, which includes missionary work in South Africa (Jones just led a church group there) and paying the utility bill for someone who’s in need.

In the wake of the June shootings at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, Holland also has taken the lead in bolstering security at Friendship Baptist, including having a law enforcement officer on duty at the church during the week – just like it does on Sunday. “It’s more top-of-mind to more people now,” Holland said about keeping church members safe. “But it’s always been a concern of mine.”

The son of a United Methodist minister, Holland also understands the special place church has historically held in the African-American community – as a second home and a community center as well as a sacred spot for prayer, singing and learning. In walking the hallways of Friendship, Holland said, he’ll often run into members who have brought a relative by to show them their church. “Members are proud. They want to show it off, and our job is to be supportive of that,” he said. “The African-American church, whether it has 200 members or 8,000, is a place where we come to network and connect and get our spiritual nourishment.”

Holland is most comfortable behind the scenes, working to smooth the way for Pastor Jones and the other clergy at Friendship to do their higher-profile jobs. “We build and maintain the road; the ministers drive the car on it,” he said.

So it was a rare event, this past July in Nashville, when Holland found himself in the spotlight at the 59th annual conference of The Church Network, formerly the National Association of Church Business Administrators. The 2,400-member group had decided to give Holland its highest honor – the Maurice Saucedo Award for Church Administrator of the Year. Holland’s plaque from his peer group now hangs on the wall in a church office that is also adorned with an African drum; a framed photo of his robed father preaching; autographed copies of books by civil rights hero John Lewis and retired Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl; and “The President’s Devotional,” a collection of daily meditations sent to President Barack Obama by Joshua DuBois, one of his White House staffers.

Holland said he values the leadership experience he got at Bank of America. But even more, he said, he feels blessed to be part of the dignity he finds in working for a church like Friendship Missionary Baptist. In the corporate world, where the focus is on profits, “many times, the execs have to hold their noses in doing stuff because it stinks,” Holland said. “Here, I don’t have to leave the best part of me at the door.”   

Reprinted in edited format with permission of The Charlotte Observer.