The Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church appointed Rev. Reginald Smith as the new director of two ministries: the CRC’s Office of Race Relations and the Office of Social Justice. He has been interim co-director of Race Relations with Shannon Jammal-Hollemans since last September.
He told trustees that working in social and racial justice requires taking the long view. “We’ve seen from the past election that we are not living in a post-racial context. How do we move toward the vision that Dr. King had and also Revelations 7 and 9?” he asked. “Truthtelling. History has to tell whole history, not just the narratives we have come accustomed to. . . . It’s not something you fix in a year or a decade. We have to move toward hearing, listening, acting, and looking at our lives institutionally. This office of race and justice stands at the nexus of where the Lord wants to take us, telling us to step outside our own comfort zones.”
Smith grew up on the west side of Chicago and was raised in the Baptist church. He connected with Lawndale CRC when a white preacher came through the neighborhood looking for kids to play on the church’s basketball team. “Basketball? We was in!” Lawndale was the first multiracial congregation he’d ever seen. He noted that the church was involved in the community, showing him a model of how community development happens.
Smith had wanted to be a lawyer. “God didn’t allow that to happen, and I was mad about that.” His pastor urged him to attend seminary, to at least give it a try. “My plan was to go there, say I hated it, and come home. But there I found my wife; we went to Madison Square church. And those were the two things that kept me in seminary.”
Armed with an M.Div. from Calvin Theological Seminary, he headed to New Jersey where he served in Paterson, mentored by Rev. Stanley Vanderklay. He then spent 20 years pastoring Roosevelt Park CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. Roosevelt Park was a combination of two churches on the southwest side, one of Dutch immigrants and the other Hispanic. “I couldn’t speak Spanish or Dutch,” he said. “But the Lord used it as an opportunity to build bridges and build community. We became involved in the neighborhood association. We were able to build our own library, arts academy, improve the lot of the people in the community, and find money to build a brand-new elementary school.”
Bridge-builder is the term pastor Denise Posie used to describe Smith when she introduced him on behalf of the search committee. That includes dealing with conflict. “Conflict is normal. It is natural,” he said. “Conflict can lead to new solutions. It’s not a bad thing unless it drains our energy to draw people toward justice and racial reconciliation.”
He acknowledged his need to continue to learn from and listen to the churches. “I want to listen well. How I listen has everything to do with building trust and building energy to go into some of these hard places. It takes time, and it takes people getting to know you.”
In addition to his M.Div., Smith has a D.Min. from Western Theological Seminary; he has been an instructor there and at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has written extensively, including award-winning articles for The Banner (“Accepting the Gift” and “Burglary in Progress”).
Smith and his wife, Sharon, who graduated from seminary last year, have three daughters. Smith takes on the role succeeding Esteban Lugo, who resigned from the Office Race Relations last year, and Peter Vandermeulen, who will retire from Office of Social Justice later this year.