Fifteen years ago, Ed Holland 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. This Saturday, he and wife Debbie will mark their 40th year of marriage. And one of the things they’ll celebrate is his recent award as national Church Administrator of the Year.
In the past 14-plus years, Holland, now 61, 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, formerly the National Association of Church Business Administrators – 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,” he 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.”
‘A back-room guy’
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.
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.
Carl Flamer, who chairs the church’s Deacon Service Ministry Council, said he was not surprised that Holland was named the country’s church administrator of the year.
“I see Ed as a servant leader who has been involved in almost every aspect of the life of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church,” Flamer said. “He’s a wonderful brother to be around – extremely accessible and responsive and definitely prayerful about the work he has to do.”
In the middle of big projects
In trying to realize the senior pastor’s vision for the church and for the city’s African-American community, Holland has also been in the middle of some of the biggest projects in Friendship’s 125-year history.
In 2004, it began building a new 135,000-square-foot church across the street from its longtime home on Beatties Ford Road. The first worship service in its current 2,700-seat sanctuary was held in August 2006.
Friendship and the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department broke ground in July on what will become, in spring 2017, Friendship Sportsplex – 25 acres of church-owned land that’s being leased to the county for softball fields, picnic shelters and playground equipment.
And in the wake of the June shootings at an African-American church in Charleston, Holland 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.”
Using ‘the best part of me’
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 July in Nashville, when Holland found himself in the spotlight at the 59th annual conference of The Church Network.
The 2,400-member group had decided to give Holland its highest honor – the Maurice Saucedo Award for Church Administrator of the Year.
Among those applauding for Holland: Jennifer Childers, director of administration at Charlotte’s Sardis Presbyterian Church, one of about 45 local members of The Church Network and the top organizer in 2013 when Charlotte hosted the group’s national conference.
Like Holland, most church administrators are doing the job as part of a second career, Childers said, and “Ed is always the one you can count on for sound advice. He has so much experience that he’s willing to let people draw on. Even his presence is reassuring.”
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.
Sitting in his office this week, reviewing his life, 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.”
Position: Church administrator, Friendship Missionary Baptist.
Hometown: High Point.
Family: Wife Debbie; two grown children: Daniel, in Chicago, and Jennifer, Charlotte; and three grandchildren.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration, Western Carolina University, 1975; and certificate in church administration, Regis University in Denver, Colo., 2004.
Previous job: Senior vice president, personnel, Bank of America, his employer from 1975 (he started a week after college graduation as a branch trainee) to 2000.
Volunteer work: Western Carolina University Alumni Association board of directors; Children & Family Services Center board of directors; affiliated with the Duke Mansion Preservation Society; and new president of the local chapter of The Church Network (formerly the National Association of Church Business Administrators).
Favorite Bible passage: 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s letter on love. Says Holland: “I believe love is a verb – it’s what you do, not what you say.”
Ed Holland’s 5 tips for administrators
1. Lead by example.
2. Use influence liberally; use power sparingly.
3. Overcommunicate the important messages.
4. A good sense of humor is always helpful.
5. Pick your battles wisely.