The Benediction of a Legend

Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr. Prepares to Retire

pdphotos-d-019.JPGBy Dion Evans,
The Baptist Post

“May the LORD watch between me and thee while we are absent one from another,” are words spoken in many churches across America at the conclusion of their worship service.  The thought is – we will dismiss ourselves from one another today with the expectation of returning to one another’s presence.

However, at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, CA the benediction of the ministry of Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. is coming to its finality.

Many standards regarding Church Policy, Programs, and Purpose have improved in the Bay Area since the arrival of a Kansas preacher, his wife, and their five children.

Dr. Smith Sr. came to the West Coast in “an old beat up Rambler” to work with American Baptist Churches of the West in the Pension Board.  Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. – a legendary giant in United States of America among Pastors, People, and Politicians -  is dawning on the benediction of his ministry as Senior Pastor at Allen Temple.

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Many churches all over the world are experiencing a decline in membership, finances, and overall ministry support – not just “Black Churches”.

While varied reasons can be given for this phenomenal decline, many in the community and amongst laity believe this condition may rest in Pastors holding onto their leadership positions past their God-ordained vision.  However, when does a Senior Pastor truly know that his time may be drawing to a Godly close?

Dr. Smith Sr. was asked the question – How did you come to agree with God that now was the time to translate to your next step in ministry?

He answered, “When God takes away your joy you know that HE has something else for you to do.  When HE took away my joy I looked at this place (Allen Temple) and said I’ve done all that I can do.  I can’t take it any higher.  When you lose your passion, your enthusiasm, when the fire is out, or when the ‘thrill is gone’ – like BB King the Blues singer said – I knew that God wanted me to move on.”

On Sunday, December 14th a special service was held for the Allen Temple membership to consider electing a new pastor – Dr. J. Alfred Smith Jr., the son of the current legendary Senior Pastor.  Dr. Smith Jr., former co-pastor at Allen Temple, is currently the Senior Pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in San Jose, CA – established August 2, 1893, over 115 years ago.

According to Antioch Baptist’s website, the church is “the oldest African American Baptist Church in San Jose.   In 1996, Antioch was added to the Historical Landmark inventory for the City of San Jose by a unanimous vote of the City Council.”

“And as I was with Moses, so shall I be with you,” stated God.  As God spoke these words to Joshua what is absolutely noticeable is that HE did not speak these words to the children of Israel.  The children of Israel had to accept the fact that Moses served God – Joshua served Moses, so when Moses died – Joshua was God’s choice.  This biblical pattern is seen in various places throughout Scripture, but how does a church laity ensure that the Leadership Succession Model is the “will of God” for their local church?

It may seem natural to the Christian Community that Dr. J. Alfred Smith Jr. would succeed his father –the renowned senior namesake.  However, what may seem natural in one church may be offensive or rejected in another.

According to Allen Temple’s  Constitution (Article VII, Paragraph 1, “Calling of a Pastor,”) it requires that  “the candidate must preach a minimum of two times and if after two times the members feel led to issue a call, a time shall be appointed for the congregation to vote by secret ballot. An affirmative vote of two–thirds (2/3) of the members present and qualified to vote, provided there be 10% of the membership present, shall be necessary to make the call valid.” This information was provided by the Chairman of the Deacon Board – Deacon Reginald Lyles – who also served as the Chairman of the Pulpit Committee.

Dr. Smith Sr. states, “I reflected on this and I said that’s hard to get (this magnitude of approval) in today’s world when you dealing with Baptist people.”  Although the affirmative vote was of a great magnitude and seemed a difficult task – the Allen Temple Baptist Church affirmed the son of Dr. J. Alfred Smith by nearly 83%.

To ensure the process was honorable and God-driven, Allen Temple brought in outside observers to help oversee the process.  Those selected where Dr. Gerald Hemingway (Consultant/Observer, and former Area Minister for American Baptist); Dr. Harold Davis (Observer and former President of American Baptist/a member of McGee Avenue Baptist Church and Trustee); and Dr. Johann Snapper (Observer/Member of Lafayette/Orinda Presbyterian Church, Retired Professor of Germanic Studies at the University of California).

When asked -Why did Allen Temple find it necessary to employ observers – Deacon Lyles, stated, “In every election rather secular or faith community it has to be based on trust.  People who have voted must trust that their votes will be counted.  We brought in impeccable men of reputation and character to observe our process.  We gave them the process in written form and their job was to hold us to our written process.  They observed the count, calculation, and they then signed their names to the voting tally sheet.  Our purpose was to legitimize the process and ensure trustworthiness.”

The Allen Temple model for Pastoral Successor operated with clarity in communication, logistics, and accountability.  Even the process of distributing the voting ballots was highly organized.  The ballots were first distributed to the Pulpit Ministers, then the choir, the Pulpit Committee, the Ushers, and finally the seated Congregation.

After the ballots were collected by the Ushers, the Pulpit Committee convened in a nearby conference room to prepare the count.

Chairman Deacon Lyles recounts, “By pre-arrangement and agreement, the Pulpit Committee divided themselves into the pre-arranged counting teams. The ballots were arbitrarily divided and distributed to the four teams.”

Lyles goes on to say, “The four teams counted the ballots in lots of twenty and stapled the counted ballots, so no ballots could be mistakenly counted twice.”

Dr. Lawrence VanHook, President of the Baptist Minister’s Union of Oakland and Vicinity commented, “The Allen Temple model would best serve the overall church community if they could provide their model in a manuscript and host conferences on the subject.  Many of our churches need such technical assistance and would greatly benefit.”

Allen Temple reports, after the tally was confirmed by the Pulpit Committee and the Observers, Deacon Lyles contacted Dr J. Alfred Smith Jr. by phone.

In the presence of the Pulpit Committee and Observers, Deacon Lyles informed Dr. J. Alfred Smith Jr. of the affirmative vote.  Deacon Lyles, the Pulpit Committee, and the Observers went into the Sanctuary and informed the waiting congregation that they had a candidate and to make the call to Dr. J. Alfred Smith Jr.