Tim Smith to preach at St. John’s Sunday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tim Smith will never forget being yelled at by the bishop.
Smith was a Morehead Scholar and religion major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He was headed for medical school, but took a year off to attend seminary.
“I could sing in front of thousands of people and play basketball in front of thousands of people,” says Smith, who was a member of the Clef Hangers and junior varsity basketball team at UNC, “but when I got up to preach, it was terrifying. I thought God was saying no to my calling. I figured the church needed laypeople, too.
“Then Bishop McDaniel got a hold of me.”
With his big, booming voice, Bishop Michael C.D. McDaniel hollered at Smith. In the middle of the cafeteria at Lenoir-Rhyne University. During Synod Assembly, no less.
“He said I couldn’t get out of the way long enough to let God speak through me,” Smith remembers.
It made Smith angry. Angry enough to go back to seminary a second year.
“When I pondered that,” Smith says, “I realized he was right. I was thinking preaching was all about me, but God uses all sorts of people.”
Even though preaching at first made Smith physically ill, “I just jumped in and took three preaching courses that semester. I thought I had something to say.”
Smith eventually got over his fear. He’ll be guest preacher at St. John’s Lutheran Church, his home congregation, Sunday.
The son of Marcus and Dot Smith, he serves as senior pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in downtown Atlanta, the second largest Lutheran church in the Southeast.
Because Smith knew St. John’s is still down one pastor, he was happy to step in while pastor Rhodes Woolly spends time with family.
“At Redeemer, we were missing two pastors at once. I was the only staff person for six months,” he said. “It was not fun.”
Smith and his family first arrived in Salisbury in 1968, when Marcus Smith was a principal in Salisbury City Schools during desegregation.
“He was not particularly popular,” Smith said. “That was a tough time.”
But at St. John’s, Smith found many mentors.
“St. John’s helped support me through seminary,” says Smith, who graduated from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg in 1986. He earned a doctor of ministry degree from Drew University in 1992.
He remembers well his first Sunday School teacher, Ruth Uzzell.
“She was part of my call story,” Smith says. “I was in third grade, and she pulled me aside several times and said, ‘I think you’d make a fine little preacher.’”
Smith downed hot dogs and Cheerwine at youth group every Sunday night, sang in the choir with Karl Kinard and played handbells, too.
He remembers lots of people at the Christmas services, and says the Thanksgiving Day was a huge service, too, as big as Christmas Eve.
Although Smith’s grandfather was a Lutheran pastor, he did not want to commit to that path. Until the encounter with McDaniel. And yes, he’ll be nervous when he steps into his home pulpit.
“That’ll be the hardest place I’ll preach,” Smith admits, “because I grew up there. Even Jesus had a hard time going home to Nazareth.”
Smith points out that St. John’s has strong ties to Redeemer.
Robert Sims, brother of Joe Sims Sr. and Eleanor Andrews, served there from 1989-2006, and really grew that congregation.
Mary Peters, a former associate pastor at St. John’s, now serves as an associate at Redeemer.
“Bob and I always tease that we are St. John’s missionaries to Georgia,” Smith says.
But he’ll be happy to be back at St. John’s on Sunday.
“I didn’t realize ’til I was a pastor what a privilege it was for me to grow up at St. John’s,” Smith says. “I just want to do this. That place means so much to me.”
Susan Shinn is communications assistant for St. John’s Lutheran Church.