Ordination Marks New Chapter in John Smith’s Ministerial Life

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

smith1(left to right) Bishop John Williams places a clerical collar around Rev. John Smith’s neck.When he walked into Living Word Christian Center in Southeast Grand Rapids on a recent Sunday afternoon, Dr. John W. Smith's black clergy shirt was unbuttoned at the top. Later, he left the building wearing a clerical collar.

Wearing the collar signals a new chapter not only in Smith's life but also with the presbytery that ordained him and the ministry he now serves under Bishop John Williams.

As such, Smith has found himself juggling several ministerial balls.

With his ordination, Smith is now vice president of Central Bible Ministries International (CBMI), a nonprofit ministry based in Grand Rapids founded in 1981. CBMI's ministry focus includes missions, building churches, schools and orphanages and providing sanitation and vocational training in Tanzania, Liberia and Kenya. Williams is the CBMI's president and CEO.

CBMI is registered with ecclesiastical authority to license and ordain pastors with credentials that are recognized worldwide.

Moreover, Smith is executive director of PastorCare West Michigan, a nondenominational ministry that provides confidential coaching to hurting pastors and their spouses, as well as services marketing director for Pregnancy Resource Center in Grand Rapids.

Smith earned a bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University, a masters of divinity from Western Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry from California Graduate School of Theology.

Those on the presbytery and who participated in Smith's ordination include Bishop John Williams, The Revs. Dan Oglesby, Living Word Christian Center; James Stokes, New Life tabernacle Church of God in Christ; Dennis McMurray, Renaissance Church of God in Christ; Nathaniel Moody, Brown-Hutcherson Ministries; Eula Gaddis, The Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist Church; Stedford Sims, Step of Faith Ministries, Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church; and George Davis, founding pastor of From The Heart Church.

Eager to serve

smith2Williams washes Smith’s feet as a symbol of mutual serving.Smith is the first to describe himself a Dutch white pastor who willingly and eagerly serves under the ministry and presbytery of local black pastors.

Such a decision reflects a deep change the Holy Spirit has done in his life, he said.

And part of that change, he is quick to add, is to be upfront with the heinous treatment of black people in this past.

"This is one white Dutch pastor who just wants to say I am sorry," said Smith, 62. "I am sorry for the sins against God and the sins against your ancestors."

Smith said he traces the new chapter in his life from several years ago, starting with the 9-11 terrorists attacks of 2001 that killed 2,996 people. Back then he was pastor of New Life Community Church in Sayville, Long Island, New York.

"9-11 had a profound affect on me," Smith said. "That was when my ministry gifts included listening and coming alongside people and much less the preacher role. Coming alongside people who were going through tough times was the seed bed for this: I don't have much to say but I have a lot of listening to do."

An 'Abraham calling'

smith3Newly ordained John W. Smith kneels as a gesture of apology for the injustices Smith’s ancestors waged against blacks.Then in February 2002, Smith attended a conference for pastors in San Diego, Calif., where he said he experienced an "Abraham calling" (leave your native land and go to a country I will show you) that would become the start of ministering to hurting pastors, specifically through PastorCare West Michigan.

At that same San Diego conference, Smith also heard a speaker from the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Compassion International ministry that provides aid to children living in poverty in 26 countries, including Kenya.

"I was looking into the eyes of children in photographs and saw a sign that said 'Kenya,'" Smith recalled. We started supporting two kids through Compassion International."

But God still wasn't done.

"The Holy Spirit encouraged me to get to know African-American pastors."

Years later forging relationships with black ministers would include the Rev. James Stokes of New Life Tabernacle Church of God and Christ. A former New Life member murdered one of Stokes' parishioners, Mashonda Griffin in Wyoming, in 2008.

Through that experience and others, Smith said he learned building credibility with African-American pastors needs to include being a good listener, earning the right to be heard and allowing time to become a genuine friend.

In the process, Smith detected God was moving him in a new direction.

"Grand Rapids is so segregated on Sunday mornings," he said. "It was getting harder and harder to worship in an all-white church. I kept reading the Bible many times but it never did click how many people in the Bible are from Africa."

He realizes how many now.

A model for reconciliation

smith4Pastors from Grand Rapids gather around John Smith and his wife, Sue, to pray for them.Bishop Williams said he and Smith are on the same sheet of music.

"I believe together we can be a model for reconciliation, racial harmony and unity in the body of Christ," Williams said. "I'll be 81 in June. When I'm gone I don't want to see this ministry fall apart. I want to be able to pass this on. With John Smith, it will live on for years. I want it to be cross-cultural and that's why John is in place now with the hope he will carry it on."

This is not Smith's first ordination. His first was in 1979 at Hope Reformed Church in Kalamazoo with the Reformed Church in America, but eventually Smith demitted his credentials with the denomination.

His first and second ordinations included singing Andrae Crouch's "My Tribute."

For Smith, the future is the undiscovered country.

"I'm not sure where God is taking it all but I have a sense it's something significant," Smith said. "I get the honor of serving under a black leader. For me that's a high honor."


Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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