Beloved North Preston pastor to give final sermon Sunday

·4 min read
Rev. Wallace Smith is set to retire after two decades as the leader of St. Thomas Baptist Church in North Preston. (CBC - image credit)
Rev. Wallace Smith is set to retire after two decades as the leader of St. Thomas Baptist Church in North Preston. (CBC - image credit)

Sunday's sermon will be the last for Rev. Wallace Smith Sr. as the leader of St. Thomas Baptist Church in North Preston, N.S..

The senior pastor for more than 21 years and member of the gospel group, The Sanctified Brothers, is stepping down from the pulpit.

"Coming in here on Sunday morning is going to be — I don't know how I'm going to get in here," Smith said in an interview with CBC Mainstreet's Jeff Douglas.

"This is where I was born and raised. Everything that happened to me [and] my family — everything happened right here in North Preston and in this church."

Listen to Rev. Smith's full interview with CBC's Mainstreet:

Smith said his retirement doesn't mean he's leaving the community or the church.

"I'm still going to be around for ... whatever assistance they need me for," he said. "I'm going to make sure that I'm here for them because they were here for me."

The pastor said his congregation has looked to him during some difficult times.

"In a week, two or three people would call to say, 'Could you bury so and so,'" he said. "There was a lot of bending my knees and … praying for people and comforting people."

CBC
CBC

He credited the faith of the community for its successes despite being "degraded" historically. North Preston is the province's largest Black community.

"It was back in the day when we were not supposed to be here," he said. "But here we are."

Smith said he wanted to bring the musicality he learned at a young age into the church.

Listen to Rev. Smith's granddaughter reflect on his career:

"He's definitely [a] world-class talent and singer," Smith's granddaughter Reeny Smith, also a well-known musician, said in an interview with CBC's Mainstreet.

"Especially for musicians, you notice when somebody has those extra qualities," she said. "He has every extra quality to set himself apart from other singers."

She said her grandfather's vocal range is what makes him stand out as a singer.

"He can hit hit the same notes that I can," she said.

CBC
CBC

She said her grandfather has an "ability to touch people" through more than his music.

"Our community — some of the hardships that we've gone through — the pastor is the one who tries to keep everyone together," she said. "He takes on all that pain, that burden, silently."

She said his passion for his work and transparency about his past resonate with the community.

Before taking the cloth in his 50s, her grandfather worked for the Department of National Defence, Reeny Smith said.

"He tells this story quite often about being at work and ... that's where he kind of had his revelation," she said. He realized he wasn't walking in "his destiny," she said.

When he took up the leadership of the church, she said her grandfather was able to bring in people who others in the community didn't think would ever come to church.

CBC
CBC

"People knew him before he became a minister," she said. "They knew what his life looked like and it reflected theirs."

Her grandfather went "head first" into expanding the church to accommodate its growing congregation, she said.

"He went in [with] no fear and he accomplished something great," she said, but about a decade later, the church was damaged by a fire.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

"I saw how he kind of carried the church through that situation," she said. "How strong he was and how he really assured people that things would be better on the other side of that."

She said that experience showed the congregation how dedicated he was to the church. "He's a giant," she said. "He means everything."

Wallace Smith's message to his community in his retirement is to "keep the faith."

"[I'm] hoping that whoever comes in to fill my shoes will take you further," he said. "I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, but when I look around and see all of the things that have been accomplished ... it's something that I never dreamed that would happen."

CBC
CBC

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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