Gregory L. Clarke (born May 13, 1958 in Bessemer) is the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, which has two locations, in West End and South Avondale. In addition to pastoring the church's 6,000 members, he has served as superintendent of the New Hope Christian School and managed the New Hope Credit Union and the Garden of Hope senior apartment complex that the church founded. He was also president of the Southwest Area Network (SWAN), a community development corporation, and a trustee of the Easonian Baptist Bible College.
Clarke, the son of Louis and Eva Clarke, grew up in Warrior and in a Bessemer housing project. He graduated from Abrams High School in 1971. He enrolled at UAB but dropped out after three years. He earned his bachelor's degree in finance at Birmingham-Southern College in 1993. He worked as a credit analyst for Alabanc, which was acquired by AmSouth Bank, and later worked as a salesman for Jim Limbaugh Chevrolet in Ensley.
As he pursued a calling to the ministry, Clarke completed post-graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School and Boston College. Clarke came to New Hope in 1986 as a guest minister and was encouraged to apply for the permanent position. He presided over a period of rapid growth that included the founding of a second campus in Avondale in 2001.
In 2004 IRS officials received an anonymous letter that led to an investigation of Clarke's personal finances. IRS Special Agent John Quartapella led the inquiry into Clarke's failure to report gifts from the church as personal income. His defense maintained that though he may have been negligent, that prosecutors would be unable to prove criminal intent. Clarke has stated that he believes the criminal investigation was motivated by his relationship with former Governor Don Siegelman, who is also serving time in federal prison.
Nevertheless, he was convicted on three counts of filing false returns on July 20, 2007. On December 18 he was sentenced to serve 21 months in federal prison and to pay $35,684 in restitution. He reported to the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta on February 15 to begin serving his sentence. Clarke and his supporters held prayer meetings in front of the Hugo L. Black Federal Courthouse in the days prior.
During Clarke's imprisonment, his chair in the sanctuary was kept reserved and his office left untouched. Kelvin Bryant commuted from Dallas, Texas to lead Sunday services at both campuses. Fred Williams succeeded him as president of the credit union, which closed in 2008, while Troy Whetstone took over management of the Garden of Hope apartments. SWAN was dissolved in the wake of his conviction, and the leadership of the Christian school was turned over to Vonceil Robinson. He resumed his preaching duties in April 2009 while under the supervision of a halfway house. He completed his sentence on August 23. The church celebrated with a "Freedom Fun Day". New Hope celebrated Clarke's 30th anniversary as pastor in 2016.
- Garrison, Greg (November 2, 2006) "More pastors willing to focus on preaching." The Birmingham News
- Walton, Val (July 17, 2007) "Pastor's income called 'offerings'" The Birmingham News
- Walton, Val (July 21, 2007) "Clarke guilty on all counts." The Birmingham News
- Walton, Val (December 19, 2007) "The Rev. Gregory Clarke gets 21 months in prison for filing false income taxes, not reporting income. Sentence starts Feb. 15." The Birmingham News
- Garrison, Greg (February 14, 2008) "Group rallies for Birmingham pastor days before he begins prison sentence." The Birmingham News
- Garrison, Greg (February 17, 2008) "New Hope Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Gregory Clarke, leaves behind plans for running church." The Birmingham News
- Gordon, Robert K. (March 21, 2009) "Birmingham, Alabama minister Gregory Clarke's tax fraud conviction upheld." The Birmingham News
- Spencer, Thomas (August 23, 2009) "Church celebrates end of pastor's sentence for tax fraud." The Birmingham News
- Troncale, Bernard (November 26, 2009) "I am thankful: Rev. Gregory Clarke." The Birmingham News
- Garrison, Greg (April 3, 2011) "Rev. Gregory L. Clarke writes memoir, says life back to normal after prison." The Birmingham News
- Johnson, Roy S. (November 13, 2016) "Seven years after release from prison, Rev. Gregory L. Clarke reaches a milestone." The Birmingham News
- Pastor Clarke autobiography at New Hope's website