The “Great Resignation” is happening all over the country.
Spurred by the pandemic, people are leaving their current jobs in hopes of something better. The Rev. Mark Becker says that’s not the case for him.
After an illustrious career that includes military service, the business sector, ordained ministry and, lastly, leading the Florida United Methodist Foundation since 2015, Becker has called it quits.
But he’s leaving for all the best reasons.
“I’ve got a grandson under a year old. I’m looking for some time in the kiddie pool and making funny faces,” Becker, 66, said. “As hard as it is to leave a great job and the people I work with, the time is right.”
He’s taking his new role seriously. He and his wife of 35 years, Marie, scientific director of a company that specializes in continuing medical education, have already relocated from Winter Haven to Woodstock, Ga.
With both grown children living in the Atlanta area — including grandson Benjamin — there will be plenty of time to focus on the joys of being a grandpa. And now he’s got the time to finish that book he’s always wanted to write.
After decades of being on a tight schedule, Becker admits there’s something else he’s looking forward to in his post-work life.
“Doing what I want to do when I want to do it,” he said. “That’s a concept I could get used to pretty quickly.”
Right person, right time
Bill Frye, president of Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches and a foundation board member, doesn’t expect his friend to fade quietly into the night. Becker has already told him he will stay on the board at the youth ranches, where he chairs the investment committee.
“I feel very fortunate to have Mark part of our team,” Frye said. “He brings a lot of compassion, a calm demeanor and a wealth of financial wisdom to our organization.”
Frye says without question, the foundation has flourished under Becker’s guidance. From the start, Becker insisted it needed to be more than just a bank for churches.
“He brought a lot of innovative ideas, like helping struggling young pastors with seminary debt and scholarships for burned-out clergy needing a break,” Frye said.
And while The United Methodist Church is navigating some rough waters these days, Frye says Becker has managed to keep the foundation “above the political fray.” Instead, he’s concentrated on putting churches on a healthy financial track and helping them fulfill their ministries with loans and other support.
“People are seeing the world in a tunnel vision these days. You need to take a broader perspective so you can understand all the viewpoints,” Frye said. “We’ve lost the art of being a good listener. That and compassion are what Mark brought to the table, and I will always be grateful for that.”
The long game
Change is something that has defined Becker’s life.
Growing up, he was given some pretty good advice from his father: “Just make sure what you are changing to is better than what you are changing from.”
There was one change he almost made, but decided against, and that turned out to be one of his better decisions in life.
Though both parents were in education — his dad was a senior school administrator, and his mom taught children with severe intellectual disabilities — he gravitated to the military as a young man.
One motivation was his uncle, who served as an officer in the Navy. When he applied to all four military schools, he ranked the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis as his No. 1 pick and got a coveted space in the program.
But things didn’t go as well as he had hoped in his freshman year. As a plebe, he only had a 2.1 GPA, which is just shy of the minimum 2.0 acceptable average. It signaled to Becker that he wasn’t demonstrating the characteristics it took to be a successful naval officer.
He made a decision that winter: he would quit at the end of the first year. Not before then, however, because he didn’t want the rigors of plebe year to defeat him.
But by early spring, Becker listened to his inner voice and perhaps the advice his dad had given him. He decided to stick it out, because the prospect of a career as a Navy officer offered significant opportunities.
He graduated in 1977 with a GPA of 3.1 and orders to Nuclear Power School that would lead to an assignment as an officer on the USS Narwhal, a nuclear submarine. Though he would only stay with the military for his five years of required service following the academy, those were some of the best years of his life.
“He’s one of the smartest guys I know,” said Eric Carlson, who served as a junior officer shipmate with Becker.
Today, the retired Navy captain is a movie screenwriter based in Virginia, and still keeps in close touch with his friend.
“No leader gets anything done without good people. That leader must be able to trust his or her people, and the people have to be willing to trust the leader. Overall, I’ve been very blessed to be surrounded by some of the best people.” — Rev. Mark Becker
“And he’s very humble about it.” Carlson said. “Unlike some people, who are smart and let you know right away.”
They formed a tight group while spending that time on board and submerging for long stretches of time. It’s a bonding experience that’s hard to describe to outsiders, Carlson said.
“In such a confined space, you have to learn to get along with others,” he said. “And you come to depend on their strengths. With Mark, it was how he could stay level-headed and calm under pressure. You could roll a live grenade to him, he’d pull out the pin and roll it back. He’s that cool.”
At Carlson’s change of command/retirement ceremony, Becker went to Virginia to lead both the benediction and invocation. Carslon said there was no better person to do it.
“We have a lot of the same values and sense of responsibility,” he said. “Though we went on such different paths, that common bond has kept us close all these years.”
A higher calling
As much as Becker loved his stint in the Navy, he opted out after five years to get an MBA at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. It changed the course of his life.
While attending a local Methodist church, he met his future wife, Marie, a Florida native. She earned a doctorate in genetics and would spend 25 years in a lab as a researcher. Becker landed a job at IBM in financial planning, new product pricing and worldwide revenue forecasting, both in management and staff positions.
“We’ve always worked well together as a team,” Marie said. “That’s how we’ve been able to have pretty demanding careers and raise a family.”
After 11 years in the private sector, which took them from New York to Austin, Mark realized staying with IBM meant uprooting his family and moving, maybe multiple times. Even more pressing was the tug he started having about the ministry.
“The church was starting to undergo some major changes, and I wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem,” he said. “I was already part of the leadership team and knew I could do so much more.”
Following a calling to serve his adopted denomination — he grew up in the United Church of Christ — was a big leap. He and Marie had two small children and bustling, successful careers.
“I fully supported him. He was rightfully concerned about finances, but I told him we could make it work,” Marie said. “I felt he could be a great addition to the church with his leadership skills, ability to communicate and his compassion.”
Mark’s next milestone was earning his Master of Divinity from Duke University in Durham, N.C. Marie’s only request was that they eventually move to her home state, which meant transferring his candidacy from the Central Texas Conference to the Florida Conference.
Returning to school for a third time wasn’t scary, Becker said, but it was a challenge juggling academics and being a dad.
First commissioned a probationary elder in 2001 and then ordained an elder in full connection in 2004, Becker’s ministry path took him to Archer United Methodist Church, Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Orange Park United Methodist Church and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tallahassee.
Nathan Adams was a 30-year-old associate pastor when Becker arrived at St. Paul’s to serve as lead pastor. Though the new pastor had more ministry years under his belt than the young man, he didn’t make that a barrier.
Instead, Becker commended Adams for his four years of institutional knowledge at the church and gave him respect.
“He told me I was his colleague, and he was looking forward to working side by side with me,” said Adams, who starts a new appointment in July at Christ Church United Methodist in Fort Lauderdale. “You can’t believe the impression that made on me. From that time forward, he always made me feel empowered and that I was a part of the team.”
Adams says his mentor gave him two lessons he continues to use in his own ministry eight years later: the importance of discipleship and staying humble.
Becker had planned on staying at St. Paul’s for a long time. But after serving on the foundation board for six years, he was convinced by fellow members he had the best credentials to lead the organization when the search began for a new president.
Applying for the opening was another moment for a big decision.
“I had only been at the church for 17 months, so I really wrestled with it,” he said. “I felt like I was letting the congregation down. But when I looked at what I could bring to the foundation given my life’s experience, I knew I had to do it.”
The rest is history.
Board member Phyllis Klock said Becker will be a hard act to follow. He has the “perfect blend” of pastoral skills and business expertise and the ability to explain complex issues simply.
“You never feel like he’s talking down to you,” she said. “His people skills are extraordinary. For that reason, I think he’s given the foundation a much higher profile and respect that it deserves.”
“He told me I was his colleague, and he was looking forward to working side by side with me. You can’t believe the impression that made on me. From that time forward, he always made me feel empowered and that I was a part of the team.” — Rev. Nathan Adams
Board member Jane Zody, who is rotating off the board this month after a nine-year run, is the chair of the search committee to replace Becker. That’s been a tall order, she says, considering the contributions he has made.
“He was honest about his shortcomings, and he was accountable,” Zody said “Though he was never shy about giving his own opinion, we never heard him say, ‘I’m the president and this is how it is.’
“Honestly, he made our board feel more like a family. I think that’s how we were able to get so much done.”
Becker is quick to deflect the attention and flattery that comes with his retirement. That reaction is likely a throwback to his days submerged in a submarine, when he learned a life lesson that has stayed with him for decades.
“No leader gets anything done without good people,” he said. “That leader must be able to trust his or her people, and the people have to be willing to trust the leader. Overall, I’ve been very blessed to be surrounded by some of the best people.”
After years of long hours, multiple responsibilities and life-changing decisions, his No. 1 fan is happy to have him at home. Marie is 60 and will be working five more years before she can join her husband in retirement.
That Navy training will come in handy in keeping the house organized.
“He’s the chief cook and in charge of laundry,” she said. “I’m happy about all of that. But mostly, I’ll be happy to see him calm and relaxed, with a pretty light schedule. He’s earned it.”