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African American Fellowship honors Florida’s Sid Smith

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“When the next history of African American Southern Baptists is written, Sid Smith will be seen as a giant.”

This accolade, from E.W. McCall Sr., pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church in La Puente, Calif., was one of many directed toward Smith June 20 at a banquet in his honor given by the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. Smith announced his retirement earlier this year as director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American ministries division.

Smith has served more than 40 years in a Southern Baptist denominational role, longer than any other African American leader. He served in California, Tennessee and Florida but his influence permeates multicultural strategies now in place at the SBC’s North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.

“Everywhere he’s gone, he’s made an impact on Southern Baptist life,” McCall said.

Born again in 1960 when he was a high school student in Texas, licensed to preach in 1961, and armed in 1968 with a master’s degree in religious education from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Smith became a community activist who worked with 40 or more churches in Compton, Calif., to elect suitable political candidates in 18 of 20 local races. Smith founded an inner-city softball league, a group home for parolees, and the Multiethnic Research Group Endeavor, a strategic planning group which helped equip the multiethnic church.

He earned a Ph.D. in 1973 from the California Graduate School of Theology. In California, Smith also founded the Southern Baptist Twinning Program, a multiracial Vacation Bible School program that resulted in more than 500 creative VBS programs and several thousand professions of faith.

Smith’s energy caught the attention of the Baptist Sunday School Board, now known as LifeWay Christian Resources, which tapped him as a consultant to their ethnic liaison unit and later as manager of the black church development section.

Among his more significant contributions to Southern Baptist life, Smith authored 12 culturally specific training resources for use in African American churches and penned a number of other resources. He specialized in the study of the multicultural church and conceived the concept of cultural specificity as a distinct strategic planning emphasis within the SBC.

The Florida Baptist Convention called Smith as director of the African American ministries division in 1994. It was the first time the needs of blacks were raised to the division level in a state convention, Smith said. His leadership led to a staff of 18 people and more than 600 African American church starts in the last 11 years in Florida. Additionally, more than 40,000 people were trained in black church development strategies, according to the Florida Baptist Convention. The strategies Smith implemented in Florida are trickling across state convention lines — Georgia, South Carolina and Michigan among them, leaders in those states said.

McCall credits Smith with behind-the-scenes work in the establishment of the National African American Fellowship in 1992. He is also a founding member of the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network, established in 1997 as a mentoring and encouraging group.

Smith, the network’s executive director, will continue in that role; he said the network is one of his more significant contributions because it will continue far in the future to minister to the needs of African American denominational servants and, as a result, the denomination as a whole.

But it’s what others say about Smith that’s most telling.

The litany of praise at the banquet included a proclamation presented by NAAF President Robert Anderson, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md., and a plaque presented by NAAF historian Winston Rudolph, plus several speeches of appreciation.

“It was Sid Smith who started me on Southern Baptists,” said McCall of California. “He started VBS training [in the early 1970s] and I knew we wanted that with our little group.” St. Stephen today draws about 2,400 in Sunday morning worship.

“He’s done a phenomenal job, always with a vision for the next thing,” McCall said. “He’s a thinker and a man of God; he’s been instrumental for us all.”

Robert E. Wilson Sr., pastor of SandTown Baptist Church in Atlanta and NAAF’s historian, said he also has known Smith since their California days.
“Dr. Smith has greatly impacted my life personally and the African American community as a whole with the number of books he’s written that have chronicled African American work in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Wilson said. “As a historian I can say that what he has done for this body of believers — not just African Americans — has helped capture strategic events in the collective history of the SBC.”

Smith developed a way to honor African American pioneers in the SBC, with awards named in their honor, such as the Emmanuel McCall Award for servant leadership, and the Kennedy-Boyce Award in honor of the two men who led the first two African American churches into the SBC in 1953 after perhaps 70 years of segregation, Wilson explained.

“Sid hired me,” said Elgia (Jay) Wells, pastoral ministries specialist/black church leadership with LifeWay Christian Resources.

“I’m indebted to him personally as well as all of us who are currently serving in denominational roles and in local churches, because of his vision and leadership in the area of Christian education,” Wells said. “Our churches are now much stronger and better equipped to serve in the advancement of the Kingdom.”

The proclamation read by Anderson of Maryland reads in part: “Those individuals who place their personal interests aside in order to serve their community, guiding and counseling their fellow men so they may obtain inner peace and tranquility deserve public recognition. … His faith in Jesus Christ is the nectar of which comes a disciplined life whose credentials speak to the challenges and changes of our time…. Like the sons of Issachar who understood the task and knew what Israel should do, Dr. Sid Smith, in a sea of white, tall in his thinking, disciplined in his strategy, and careful in his diplomacy, has now learned the maze of both the African American and conservative Anglo … bureaucracy.”

After proclaiming June 20, 2005, “Sid Smith Day,” Anderson added a personal note.

“I, too, possibly wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Sid Smith,” the outgoing NAAF president said. “We stand on your shoulders.”
With reporting by Eva Wolever.