June 23, 2014
By Emily Holladay and Aaron Weaver
DECATUR, Ga. — The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s longest-serving staff member is retiring June 30 after 23 years of service.
Clarissa Strickland, CBF’s Networking Specialist, was hired in 1991, beginning her work with the Fellowship as the organization was officially forming. Strickland worked alongside Sandra Davey, a banker from Cartersville, Ga., in administration and database maintenance for what was then the Baptist Cooperative Missions Program, Inc.
In addition to her work in the organization’s original Decatur, Ga., headquarters, Strickland was also a member of the first CBF Coordinating Council.
She continued in her administrative role until 1993, when David Wilkinson joined the staff to direct communications for the Fellowship. Strickland worked on the communications team with Wilkinson and said he had a tremendous impact he had on her.
“I give David credit for mentoring and educating me in many respects, because he was my earliest coach,” Strickland said. “Everyone I’ve worked with has had a huge impact on me, but I had never worked in an office before, and he taught me much. David was the first in a list of great coaches, mentors and managers, including Terry Hamrick, Harry Rowland and Bo Prosser, that I have been blessed to work with and learn from at CBF.”
In 1994, Strickland was asked to take on the additional role of coordinating logistics for CBF’s annual General Assembly, which she did for eight years. For the past 12 years, Strickland has served as CBF’s Networking Specialist, leading the Fellowship’s reference and referral program. Through this work, she has helped to connect ministers with churches and churches with ministers, providing hands-on support to candidates, churches and search committees alike.
During her 23 years at CBF, Strickland has worked in five different office buildings and under all three of CBF’s Executive Coordinators — Cecil Sherman, Daniel Vestal and Suzii Paynter. She feels that through every change, CBF has continued to be the perfect place for her.
“Cecil Sherman once said, “‘You know — this is the perfect job for you?’ And that’s how I’ve felt these whole 23 years,” Strickland said. “That’s been a gift.”
Upon retirement from CBF, Strickland will continue to be an active seamstress and spend more time with her family, including her daughter, Courtenay and grandson, Marcello (3). She will remain active in the Fellowship and will maintain CBF’s reference and referral network on a contract basis until her position is filled.
Strickland emphasized that what she has loved most about her work at CBF was that it always felt like so much more than just a job.
“CBF has provided me with a Baptist home, a place to exercise my calling and the ability to work with wonderful people in and outside the office,” Strickland said. “It’s always been more than a job — it has been a calling. And I’ve been able to see that the work I’ve done is truly ministry.”
Strickland’s friends and colleagues praised her many contributions to Baptist life and her important role in the Fellowship connecting ministers and churches:
“Clarissa is unique. And she has been uniquely gifted by God for the life of CBF,” said CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter. “She is generous and has given her creativity, competency and compassion at every stage of our CBF growth. Her reputation, leadership and friendship have been like yeast, permeating the entire Fellowship family from Decatur to Shanghai. Although we will miss her in the office daily, I have no doubt she will continue to appear on the CBF stage because her heart and home are among the wonderful people of CBF who will surely not let her rest for long.”
“Clarissa Strickland has been the personification of CBF for many years,” Bo Prosser, CBF Coordinator of Organizational Relationships, said. “She has served as editor, program planner and been a wonderful representative of the Fellowship’s work. Most importantly, Clarissa has been a vital link for many congregations seeking pastors and staff and for many prospective ministers seeking positions of service. She has put in place a strong framework for continuing trusted reference and referral services to our constituents.”
“Clarissa has made so many contributions to CBF, but her deep love and loyalty inspire me the most,” said Daniel Vestal, who served as CBF Executive Coordinator from 1996-2012. “She is a person of impeccable integrity and conviction as well as a true friend. It is hard to imagine her not being in the CBF offices. We all will miss her.”
“As a female pastor, I feel particularly indebted to Clarissa for the example she set as a leader and also for the work that she has done with search committees to broaden their horizons and open the door for many of them to consider female candidates,” said Carol McEntyre, pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia, Mo. “Finding a church to pastor was not easy for me, but the church I found couldn’t be a better fit. Clarissa introduced us and for that I am so grateful.”
“Clarissa’s retirement means CBF is bidding a fond farewell to a prophet, writer, humorist, preacher, teacher, worship artist and ministry enthusiast,” said Bob Ballance, pastor of Pine Street Church in Boulder, Colo. “In bringing her many gifts to her work, Clarissa inspired a generation of long-tenured Baptists, while at the same time acted as a shepherd of welcome for a whole new generation of talent. Before Clarissa, males mostly managed the connection between churches searching for professional leadership and professionals seeking ministry positions, but Clarissa paved the way for the welcome of women in a variety of Baptist leadership roles.”
“The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, though birthed by the Spirit, came into being because of the hopes and dreams of committed Baptists seeking a fellowship in which they could freely and gracefully live out their passion for Christ. Clarissa was one these committed Baptists,” said Harry Rowland, CBF Missional Congregations Director. “Clarissa’s heart-print is on the whole of CBF, while her loving fingerprints have touched the lives of countless churches and ministers.”
“Clarissa has a great heart for this ministry of connections with a deep love of the church and wisdom of a keen matchmaker,” said Keith Herron, senior pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former CBF Moderator. “She values the mystery of ‘the right church’ and ‘the right minister.’ Churches need this kind of help when they seek new leadership and pastors need this kind of keen insight.”
“Clarissa deserves a huge thank you from countless seminary students,” said Mary Kaylor, CBF Student.Go intern. “She has been an irreplaceable resource in our lives. From helping us present our best on resumes to connecting us with the right churches, Clarissa has been instrumental in helping us follow God’s call.”
“Clarissa has been one of the best supporters of and always a good friend to Baptist women ministers,” Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, said. “Quietly and behind the scenes, she has educated churches, encouraging them to be more open to and affirming of the gifts of women.”
“My relationship with Clarissa Strickland began as a work relationship but over the years turned into a true friendship,” said Jamie Strom, CBF’s Cash Application Associate. “We’ve laughed, we’ve cried and we’ve hurt together, but that is what true friends do. I will miss seeing her every day.”
“Clarissa took Jesus, the church, CBF and sewing seriously, but she made sure that those around her didn’t take themselves too seriously,” said Terry Hamrick, former CBF Coordinator of Leadership Development. “She was a gift that helped shape CBF’s soul. Thanks be to God.”
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.