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Agency pastor focuses on policies to help needy

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The Rev. Larry Clark of Toledo Metropolitan Ministries will take the reins of the Toledo Area Council of Churches Jan. 1.

Diane Hires / Blade Enlarge

From his modest office at Collingwood Presbyterian Church in the Old West End - filled with religious texts and a map of the Holy Land - The Rev. Larry Clark sees the importance of handing out meals to the hungry or finding help for the needy.

But more importantly, he's looking to change social policies so those people can help themselves.

As executive director of Toledo Metropolitan Ministries, Pastor Clark incorporates a popular adage into work. After telling it, he makes a small addition.

"You can teach a man to fish and he won't be hungry, but if he doesn't have a fishing pole, he's not going to catch anything," he said. "If he has no bait or no transportation to the watering hole, he isn't going to catch any fish."

Pastor Clark, an ordained United Methodist pastor who's been active in the city for decades, has been the executive director of Toledo Metropolitan Ministries for 3 1/2 years.

Leading the faith-based nonprofit agency, which is funded by several religious denominations, has been a natural fit, Pastor Clark said.

"We are not looking to meet the needs of people," Pastor Clark, 49, said. "We are looking to change policy to meet the needs I'm identifying the systemic barriers that come with poverty."

The organization operates several programs - each aimed at a specific cause. The Coalition for Quality Education, for example, advocates for children of Toledo Public Schools.

Larry Sykes, of the Toledo Board of Education, called Toledo Metropolitan Ministries an asset to the community.

"I think Larry is well-respected and he has a tenacity for sticking with what he wants," Mr. Sykes said. "He fights for what he believes in."

The agency operates the annual Erase the Hate in Toledo - a series of programs over three months designed to develop and enhance mutual respect among various racial, religious, and cultural communities.

It also tackles urban sprawl, alcohol and substance abuse, health-care issues, affordable housing, and policies for helping the elderly.

After Jan. 1, Pastor Clark will take the reins of the Toledo Area Council of Churches, a related but separate nonprofit ecumenical organization.

It had an annual budget of $55,000 in 2004 but was operating at a deficit of nearly $20,000. With donations down 33 percent this year, its executive director, the Rev. Al Otto Baumann II, agreed to resign his part-time position effective Jan. 1 to help the agency cope with the economic crisis. "The next step is to look at the structure of our organization under one hat," Pastor Clark said.

The council of churches' ministries, including the successful Feed Your Neighbor and House My People projects, will continue uninterrupted, he said.

The council and the ministries are overseen by the same umbrella organization, the Toledo Ecumenical Area Ministries. Both have their headquarters in Collingwood Presbyterian Church.

The Rev. Robert Reinhart of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish praised Pastor Clark for his work with the organization.

"He has the courage of his convictions and the ability to take a stand," Father Reinhart said. "When [Sept. 11, 2001] happened, he immediately organized a group of people from all different faiths, and that night we had an ecumenical prayer service."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

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