Mayor remains church pastor, thanks to dad

The Rev. Mark Holland needed help when he was elected mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, and not just at city hall.

Holland knew that if he was going to be a full-time mayor and continue as senior pastor at Trinity Community Church he would require pastoral reinforcement.

So he recruited his dad, the Rev. Ron Holland, a retired United Methodist elder.

And, for the last couple of years, the father has been his son’s associate at Trinity, a United Methodist congregation.

Mark, 46, preaches on Sunday and works as mayor through the week. Ron, 76, handles church administration and pastoral care.

Said son: “It’s been a great opportunity to work with my dad at my side.”

Said father: “I love the role reversal — to have the son be in charge, and I’m just working as an extension of his ministry. I’m having a ball.”

A pastor-mayor’s agenda

Mark Holland grew up wanting to be a United Methodist pastor. But, according to his father, Mark also showed an early interest in politics and public service while an undergraduate at Southern Methodist University.

He earned a master of divinity degree from Iliff School of Theology and a doctor of ministry degree from St. Paul School of Theology, both United Methodist schools. He was ordained in 1994 and began his appointment at Trinity five years later.

As a pastor, Mark Holland served on community boards, and in 2007 was elected an at-large commissioner for the unified Wyandotte County/Kansas City government.

Holland ran for mayor of that government in 2013, gaining endorsement from the Kansas City Star and from the outgoing mayor. Though a Democrat, he was elected on a non-partisan basis with 56 percent of the votes.

Kansas City, Kansas, presents challenges, with chronically high unemployment and other urban woes.

“It’s improved my prayer life, that’s for sure,” Holland said of serving as mayor.

Holland has focused on economic development, a “healthy communities” initiative and innovation in providing government services. Mindful of racial turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri, he’s worked to further integration of the public safety force.

And he’s tried to make sure more of those jobs go to residents of Kansas City and Wyandotte County.

“I can’t ask other big employers to hire local if we’re not modeling that in government,” he said.

Holland also has organized a mayor’s clergy roundtable, which meets quarterly and recently decided to focus on homelessness.

Of course, the mayor himself is a clergyman — and one who sees no contradiction in his dual roles.

“I think as a pastor we’re appointed to a community, and not just to a church — appointed to a mission field, in terms of serving the community in any way we can,” Holland said.

‘Different gifts’

Meanwhile, back at the church, Ron Holland tends to administrative details and handles (with the help of another pastor and a seminary intern) hospital visits, weddings, funerals and other pastoral work. He’s paid a small stipend, without benefits, for 10 hours a week, though the work often goes beyond that.

He’d been an interim pastor after his retirement, so filling in is nothing new.

“There are headaches,” Ron Holland acknowledged. “I kind of call it the ‘drama du jour.’ I operate pretty much out of my cell phone.”

When he can, Mark Holland chairs the weekly church staff meeting. When he can’t, his father does.

If Ron Holland feels Mark needs to make a certain hospital visit, he’ll let him know. They’re in touch regularly through the week.

“We have enough trust with each other that we can do stuff on the phone in about 30 seconds,” Ron Holland said. “He knows that if I send him a text I need an answer.”

Mark Holland notes that not everybody in the church has been happy about the arrangement, either because they don’t think pastors should be in politics or just want him around more.

“I don’t go on all the hospital visits, and I don’t return all the phone calls,” he said. “There’s been some grief around that both for me and the congregation.”

But he believes things have smoothed out in the last year. Pat Gates, lay leader, sounds far more affirmative.

“It’s wonderful to have both Ron Holland and Mark Holland serving the church,” she said. “They have different gifts. They have pretty much the same heart for service to the community.”

Mark Holland, Gates said, has cast a multicultural vision for the church, which averages about 140 in worship. Ron Holland shares that vision and excels at administration, she added.

For Mark Holland — who with his wife, Julie Solomon, has four children — absence from Trinity has made his heart fonder.

“It’s easy when you’re in the church day to day to get caught up in the mechanics,” he said. “Sometimes Sunday feels like another work day. Now that I’m not in the church every day of the week, I really look forward to that worship moment.”’

The son-father pastor team could be in place at Trinity for quite a while. Mark Holland plans to run in 2017 for another four-year term.

“His social conscience is a deep part of his Christianity,” his father said. “He believes deeply that the municipal-county government should be a part of caring for people.”

Sam Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas.

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