LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Members of the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network honored the late Sid Smith during its annual meeting June 21 in Louisville, Ky., noting Smith’s “lofty goals and great ideas.”
“Dr. Smith inspired us to reach toward excellence,” said Ken Ellis, executive director of the Black Servants Network since Smith’s death in April. “He had lofty goals and great ideas. We had decades of his powerful, steady voice…. Dr. Smith was always on top of his game.”
Smith served more than 40 years in Southern Baptist denominational roles, longer than any other African American leader. He worked in California, Tennessee and Florida — where he was the first director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American ministries division from May 1994 to October 2005. “[H]is influence permeates multicultural strategies now in place at the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources,” according to the dedication in the 2009 edition of The Journal of African-American Southern Baptist History.
Smith directed the establishment of the journal and was editor of each of its seven annual volumes, including the 2009 edition. He worked behind the scenes in the 1992 establishment of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention and founded the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network in 1997.
In Smith’s honor, the network renamed its Denominational Leadership Award the Sid Smith Denominational Leadership Award. Willie McPherson received the award this year.
“I am kinda choked up right now,” McPherson said, struggling for composure in accepting the award. “I came aboard in 1979. There weren’t many of us then in the Southern Baptist Convention. It makes me proud to look out around this room and see all of us who are working together…. I’m grateful to God He’s placed me in this place among you.”
In 1984, McPherson was named as the first African American to head the California Southern Baptist Convention’s work of cooperative ministries/black church relations. In 1989 he joined the staff of the Home Mission Board, precursor to today’s North American Mission Board, and in 1992 he was elected director of its division of black church extension. He left the post in 1997 and is now retired.
No Southern Baptist churches worshipped in an African American context from at least the turn of the 20th century until 1951, when Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Anchorage, Alaska, and Community Baptist Church in Santa Rosa, Calif., joined with the SBC, according to the 2009 edition of The Journal of African-American Southern Baptist History, which focuses on church planting.
By 1990, about 1,500 African American churches had joined the SBC, according to an essay McPherson wrote for the journal. Within seven years, there were 2,400. Today, about 3,000 churches across the SBC worship in an African American context.
“It’s just amazing what God has done with me and through me,” McPherson said. “You’re going to have some rough times, some hard times. No matter what you come up against, remember: God knows. God sustained me and did things through me and to me to teach me things I needed to know.”
The award is to be presented again during Black Church Week July 20-24 at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina, when Smith’s wife Arnette and son Sid III will be on hand to participate, Ellis said.
The network, which serves about 250 African Americans in denominational roles across the SBC by providing fellowship mentoring and support, presented additional awards.
Alma Surrency, longtime ministry assistant in the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American ministry division, where she has worked for more than 35 years, received a Denominational Appreciation Award for her service to the network from its inception. Sid Smith was her supervisor.
Lincoln Bingham, pastor of St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church in Louisville, known for more than 50 years for his work in racial reconciliation, also received a Denominational Appreciation Award for “remarkable service and dedication to the Southern Baptist Convention” and the network. St. Paul’s hosted the meeting.
Elgia (Jay) Wells, director of ministry to black churches at LifeWay Christian Resources, received the Kennedy-Boyce Award — named in honor of the two pastors who in 1951 brought African American churches into the SBC — for Wells’ impact on African American churches and the denomination. Among his contributions: development of Black Church Week, the “You” urban Sunday School curriculum and the recent “You the Man” LifeWay emphasis that builds up African American men.
“It’s been a privilege to serve,” Wells said in accepting the award.
Various SBC entities and network committees gave reports during the meeting highlighting ways the network’s members can benefit from each other. David Cornelius, a charter member of the network and African American missional church strategist at the International Mission Board, noted, “Back when we organized, it was our goal to serve as mentors to those who would become future leaders. We also effectively developed a pool of manpower from which other organizations could pull from. Networking has a lot to do with the network’s purpose.”
Paul Brewer, African American multiethnic evangelism coordinator for the North American Mission Board, said he became a part of the network because he wanted to “give back” by mentoring future Southern Baptist leaders and evangelists.
The 2009 officers elected in a slate were Jeffrey Curtis, LifeWay, president; Willie McLauren, Tennessee Baptist Convention, vice president; Dawn Cornelius, LifeWay, treasurer; Alma Surrency, Florida Baptist Convention, financial secretary; Willie Jacobs, Tennessee Baptist Convention, parliamentarian; and Gerald Davis, Baptist General Convention of Texas, historian.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message. Demetrius Hicks II is a summer intern at the Message from Oklahoma Baptist University.