Retiring Pastor Ready for 'Jubilee Time'
The Rev. Dr. Charles H. Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church of Madison, is retiring.
The Rev. Dr. Charles H. Smith served as pastor of a West Virginia church during the civil rights movement, No. 2 leader of the NAACP in the 1980s and then as an aide to Sen. John Glenn during Glenn's bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
He also traveled across the U.S. for the American Bible Society, which is how to came to supply a bunch of Bibles to the late Rev. Johnnie Brewster, who was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Madison on Cook Avenue for two decades.
Smith and Brewster became good friends and when Brewster died in 2000, Smith came to Madison to help the church out. He served as interim pastor and then was installed as pastor in 2002.
Smith, 81, is retiring this week and moving to Marietta, Ga., to focus on his writing and possibly academic teaching. A celebration in the church garden featuring a jazz band is planned for Saturday and his last service is Sunday.
In his decade in Madison, Smith oversaw renovations to the church, the creation of "Carol's Garden" in the church's yard, and served as a community leader during difficult times, including holding a prayer vigil for a Madison man who was injured in a fight.
Smith said the man, Marcus Banks, is doing well and has since attended services at the church.
Smith recently sold his home in Wayne and is destined for Georgia, where he has family. He has five daughters and six granddaughters. He went through a divorce this month, and the church has been supportive.
"The church has been beautiful to me as I went through this struggle," he said. "I never missed a Sunday preaching ... my faith kept me going. Preachers is just as susceptible to the inner human experience as anybody, no different. It's how you react to it."
Associate minister the Rev. Dr. Valerie Griffin, who Smith said added a great dimension to his ministry in the church, remembers joining the church while the sanctuary was being renovated and services were held at the Madison Area YMCA.
After the renovation was complete, the church marched through the streets of Madison and the church's oldest member, Cora Jiggetts, cut the ribbon on the renovated church.
Smith's leadership helped heal a church that had lost its pastor, and restored the sanctuary, Griffin said.
"I saw leadership skills that were just phenomenal," she said of Smith.
When church secretary Carol J. Sallie Baxter died of cancer, the garden was built to honor her, as well as a tribute other church members.
"The garden has really become an outdoor sanctuary of love," Griffin said.
Smith said he is ready for what he calls "jubilee time" after five decades of leadership roles.
"After 50 years, I'm ready to move in a different direction that will not require the pressure of leadership that is constant, unyielding and demanding," he said. "This time of my life is what I call jubilee time. Jubilee time is freedom, emancipation, and hindsight philosophying and reflecting insights. And that's where I am now. I have time to reflect on multiple careers."
Smith started as the director of a community center in Philadelphia, then assisted his father in his father's last years as a pastor in Kentucky, where Smith was born and raised. Then, he was a pastor in West Virginia for 20 years, where he built a new church, 150 apartment units and structured two successful businesses.
After pastoring in West Virginia, he served as deputy executive director of the NAACP at the organization's national headquarters in New York City. He worked as an aide to Sen. John Glenn and then at the American Bible Society.
In Madison, Smith led a smaller church than he did in West Virginia and found more secular "competition" with church on Sundays, such as sports.
"Not only me, but I've gone to the interfaith council and every pastor is facing the same dilemma," he said.
"I've lost so many kids to the religion of sports, and they want me to celebrate it and I have difficulty because my job is moral principles and the teachings," he said.
As a pastor, he focuses on character building. He said he sees the church losing relevance, though that is where people can "deal with the heart and the mind and the spirit."
"I came out of the crucible of segregation in the worst sense of the word. I came out of the roughest part," he said. "You may be able to restructure laws, but you have got to deal with the heart and the mind and the spirit. Because very little has changed when it comes to the spirit in terms of prejudice in this country."
While planning worship services with the ministerial staff and deacon boys for the transition with Smith retiring, Smith recited the words of a hymn: "In every change, God, faithful, will remain."
"And of course the next part is, 'Be still, my soul, the Lord is on my side,'" he said. "That's my faith. Life's full of changes. Some of them you bring on yourself. And some is brought on you. ... That's the only thing constant is change. How do you get through it is the key."
In addition to writing and teaching in his retirement, Smith plans to cook and start playing piano again.