On Sunday, Rev. Wallace Smith preached his final sermon as senior pastor of St. Thomas Baptist Church in North Preston.
Smith is the first and only ordained minister from North Preston to serve in the role of senior pastor of that church. And on Wednesday, after serving in that role for 21 years, Smith will retire.
Smith’s family, including his wife Frances, several of his siblings, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as Lieutenant Governor Arthur J. LeBlanc, the area’s city councillor David Hendsbee, and NBA star Lindell Wiggington, were among the hundreds in attendance Sunday at Smith’s last service.
“I won’t say it’ll be the last time Rev. Smith preaches from this podium, but it will be the last time as senior pastor of St. Thomas Baptist Church,” said Smith’s son, Wallace Smith Jr., while introducing his father.
Then Smith began his final sermon.
“Praise the Lord, Church,” he began to a resounding response from the congregation. “Somebody shout, ‘Hallelujah.’ Say, ‘Praise the Lord.’ It’s good to be in the house of the Lord. Amen. God is good.”
Smith said he was overwhelmed as he began his sermon, which lasted just over 20 minutes.
He said that it wasn’t so much a preaching sermon he intended to deliver but rather one of encouragement. Smith then asked his wife Frances, who he calls his “queen,” to stand and be acknowledged. The congregation applauded when she stood.
“She is the love of my life, but she knows that God is the head of my life as well.”
Smith then asked the rest of his family to stand and be acknowledged.
“Just wanted you to know that I love you dearly. You’ve been my greatest supporters,” Smith said.
Smith reminisced about growing up in North Preston and said that people in the community were often looked down upon as “outcasts.”
“But God has been good to us,” he said. “Our homes were considered shacks. But when you drive through now, we’ve grown, and we thank our forefathers and mothers for helping us to grow.”
Smith first became a deacon at St. Thomas under the late Rev. Dr. Donald Skier. He served in that role for 11 years before serving as assistant pastor under the late Rev. Calvin Symonds.
One Sunday in 1997, Smith was asked to do a service at Zion Baptist Church in Truro. The following Sunday he was asked to come back to do the communion.
“And the next Sunday morning they said, ‘Would you like to be our Pastor?’” he said.
Smith read from the book of Joshua and compared his own journey to that of Joshua, a follower of Moses who helped prepare him for his leadership role in the second part of his life.
In 1997, at age 54, with his children “half grown up,” Smith and his wife moved to Truro where he served as the minister at Zion Baptist for three and a half years. During that time, he said “the church and community grew tremendously.”
“Then I got a call from somebody from North Preston that said that Rev. Symonds was no longer going to be the pastor (at St. Thomas)."
Smith said he learned about the final decision about him becoming senior pastor at St. Thomas from his late daughter, Cindy, who called him and said, ‘Dad, pack your bags, you’re coming back home.’”
“I’m thankful today for my family, for all of you,” Smith said. “Because when I say family I mean all of you. There were times when I had to treat you like you were my own children. But it’s all good. We developed a relationship together.”
“We don’t want to stay stuck. We want to move on forward in the name of Jesus. There’ll be those that will try to block your vision. But if God has given you a vision, move with the vision. And I pray God will bless you.”
“It’s been a wonderful journey. We’ve had some road bumps, we’ve had some hardships, but God has blessed us through it all, and I’m glad that Jesus Christ came into my life when he did.”
Smith said Sunday’s sermon wouldn’t be his last and that he will be staying in North Preston where he lives and will continue to offer community support.
Five members of the Collins family were at Sunday’s service. Francis Collins, his wife, Frances, their granddaughters Felicia and Aaliyah, and their great-granddaughter, Nevaeh, Felica’s daughter, all traveled from Truro where they attend Zion Baptist Church.
Felicia Collins was just a teenager when she was baptized by Smith at Zion Baptist.
“You could talk to Pastor Wallace about anything,” she said after the service. “He was very community-oriented, family-oriented. He brought his family each weekend from North Preston to Truro to be with him and support him. Today was amazing. I’m glad I could be here to witness his final sermon.”
Deacon David Provo, the current moderator of the African United Baptist Association (AUBA) said he was raised in the church and has known Smith all his life. Provo first became a deacon at St. Thomas about a year before Smith returned to become the senior pastor in 2001.
“When he came back there was a lot of excitement in the air. It was a joyous occasion to see one of our own come back home,” Provo said.
He credited Smith for helping to grow both the congregation and the church leadership over the past two decades.
Kienya Booker, Smith’s youngest child, said she hopes her father does retire.
“He’ll probably keep preaching but I’m hoping that he takes the break that he needs so much,” she said.
Smith’s granddaughter and the organist at St. Thomas, Reeny Smith, said the family has had a “behind-the-scenes look" of Smith's work and the physical and mental impact it’s had on him.
“There’s been a lot of tragedies in our communities, especially with our young men,” she said. “And I know for him it was hard, it was tough. How do you console a family that’s just lost their child?”
“Over the course of his time as pastor, there were times when something would happen at maybe 3 a.m. and he’d get the call and he’d jump up right away and go to the hospital and comfort the family. That’s a huge job and he’s done a lot of that. He had to bury an eight-year-old who was murdered.”
Reeny said she hopes her grandfather remains retired, and he relaxes and enjoys some down time.
"It’s a tough job, but he went headfirst and he put his feelings aside, his comfort aside to cater to other people. That’s why today is so much more special.”
After the service people gathered across the street at the North Preston Community Centre. Smith and Frances entered the room to a round of applause.
“Today was bittersweet but mostly sweet,” Smith said. “I was overwhelmed by the many folks that came out in support.”
“To see all that love around you is just amazing. I was overwhelmed by so many that had left their own churches to come help me celebrate this day. So, I thank God for that.”
Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner