When he was in Chattanooga in the late 1990s, the Rev. Kevin L. Smith joked earlier this week, he was a black Baptist attending a white Pentecostal seminary on a white Presbyterian scholarship.
"I was Chattanooga's renaissance man," he said.
Smith, now a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of Watson Memorial Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., returns to the Scenic City on Sunday to speak at the 8:30 and 11 a.m. worship services at Morris Hill Baptist Church, 1804 Morris Hill Road.
When he was here earlier, he earned his Master of Divinity degree at the Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tenn., and planted Love Fellowship Baptist Church in East Chattanooga.
Morris Hill Baptist was a sponsoring church - through the Tennessee Baptist Convention - for Love Fellowship. A sponsoring church, according to Smith, "gives [a new church] encouragement and all types of support. Before we had a building, [Morris Hill] gave me office space and secretarial services and rooms for counseling."
"Bill [Mason, senior pastor at Morris Hill] and I became true friends," he said. "That led to everything else."
Smith, married to the former Patricia Moore, a Chattanooga native, left Love Fellowship in 2003 to begin his doctoral studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As his doctoral studies were winding down, he joined the faculty at Southern Seminary and became pastor at Watson Memorial.
It was never his intent to become a pastor during his doctoral studies, he said, but he spoke at the church several times and helped it obtain an interim pastor before the congregation called him as pastor.
Being both a seminary professor - he teaches church history and preaching - and a working pastor has its advantages, especially for older or second-career students, Smith said.
"Students appreciate studying with a pastor who is pastoring a congregation," he said. "I can address some of the practical concerns they have in class."
Smith, who attended last month's Southern Baptist Convention, said he was mostly indifferent about a measure delegates passed giving the denomination the alternative name of Great Commission Baptists.
He said individual churches relate more closely to their state convention than the denomination, so "I wasn't excited one way or another. If it is helpful to some to use [the new name] as a tag name, it is fine."
The election of the Rev. Fred Luter as the denomination's first black president was another matter. "It was quite an emotional day," Smith said, who was the first black pastor to be elected first vice president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention in 2006.
He praised the pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans for his commitment, noting that he built the congregation into a megachurch, saw it dissipate after Hurricane Katrina, started congregations in Texas and elsewhere in Louisiana with former members, and then rebuilt Franklin Avenue Baptist.
"I've been with him a little bit," Smith said of Luter. "He is one who believes in sharing the good news about Jesus Christ."