FAMILY IN THE NEWS: Rev. Perry Anderson Smith III

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Here’s an article I found online…

A Calling That’s Lasted 50 Years
By Hamil R. Harris

When Perry Smith III moved to the District in the 1950s, he had planned to attend medical school at Howard University — an opportunity that wasn’t available in his black hometown of Mound Bayou, Miss.

More than 50 years later, Smith is celebrating his vocation — not as a doctor, but as pastor of First Baptist Church of North Brentwood for the past half century.

During that time, Smith has grown the church from 27 members to more than 3,300, served as a local leader in the civil rights movement, worked to eliminate segregation in Prince George’s County and, most recently, oversaw the construction of an $8 million sanctuary.

“It was a calling,” said Smith, 74, who has used his pulpit to preach liberation theology — identifying God and His promise of salvation with the plight of black people throughout history — along with a politically active social gospel.

Smith is only the fifth pastor in the church’s 102-year history, and in honor of his service, the church has hosted several events, including a banquet, a picnic and theatrical production showcasing aspects of his life.

In addition to his pastoral duties, Smith is a founding member of the Collective Banking Group, a consortium of pastors in Prince George’s County and the District that helps area churches finance projects; a former county NAACP president; and an advocate in the struggle to keep Prince George’s Hospital Center open.

While many churches have moved to more rural settings when they have expanded, Smith and his members have remained in North Brentwood. Even though the community’s narrow streets lined with wood-frame homes offer little space, the church found a way to build its new sanctuary in what used to be the former parking lot.

Smith said the church’s priority was to remain in its longtime home.

“The church is a stabilizing factor in the black community and, while we looked at other locations, we prayerfully decided to remain in this community,” Smith said.

During his long career, Smith hasn’t hesitated to wage battles against injustice. After attending Howard University School of Divinity and being called to pastor tiny First Baptist in black North Brentwood, Smith plunged into activism.

“Racism abounded in Maryland as it did in Mississippi, and pastors were not only called to preach but to lead their community toward racial integration and desegregation,” Smith said.

In 1961, he was a member of a group of ministers who boarded a Greyhound bus to Tallahassee to integrate the segregated capital of Florida. He also worked with Robert F. Kennedy to implement Head Start and anti-poverty programs.

Smith was also part of a group of ministers, which included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who broke away from the National Baptist Convention, USA in 1961 after it did not fully support the civil rights movement, and joined the newly formed Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Smith said the biggest inspiration in his life was his grandfather, Perry Smith, a business owner in Mississippi. “During the Montgomery bus boycott, my grandfather took me to meet Dr. King,” Smith recalled. He said his grandfather was very politically active.

“He thought that everyone should have the right to vote. If someone wanted to vote, he would pay their poll tax and make sure that they were registered voters,” Smith said.

During the 1963 March on Washington, Smith was standing in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial when King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. At the time, Smith was president of the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP, which was waging its own battles to integrate public schools, housing and employment in the county.

Despite his activism, church members say that Smith has remained a devoted pastor.

Smith has a unique ability to know all of the members, even though the church is one of the largest in the Washington area, said Gary Brown, vice chairman of the church’s deacon ministry.

“When we were looking for a church back in 1980, we visited a lot of churches, but this church felt like a family,” Brown said. “The reason for that is Rev. Smith knows everyone by name and what is going on in their lives.”

In the same way he broke away from the National Baptist Convention to be part of King’s movement, Smith has broken the mold as a traditional pastor — whether it is moving his main service from 11 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Sundays so that people can do other things or ordaining women.

“Rev. Smith is not threatened by women,” said Janet Caldwell, one of three female ministers on the church’s seven-member pastoral staff. “He really supports us, not only in the traditional roles of the church but as preachers of the gospel as well.”

“I have tried to keep a family atmosphere here,” Smith said. “When people feel ownership, they support something. I firmly believe in an equal opportunity church.”

(Original Source: The Washington Post)

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