Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Pastor James Smith

January 11, 2012 02:28 PM
Pastor James Smith (center)
© Bob Williams

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m the son of a pastor—I grew up in the church. My father [Pastor Mack Smith] has been pastor of Trinity, Wyandanch for the past 30 years. So I grew up in Wyandanch and received my M.Div. from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 2010. I attended Wagner College, so it was a great opportunity to be called to Wagner as the chaplain last fall.


How did you feel called to the ministry?

When you’re a PK [pastor’s kid], the last thing in the world you want to do is become a pastor yourself. It’s the lifestyle. Because of the amount of time you spend at church, at meetings, at Bible studies—you don’t want to be around church anymore! There was a time when I left church completely for about two years because I was expected to do anything and everything in church. I took that time to discover what to do. I went to community college and got an associate’s degree in radio and television production.


But God has a sense of humor. One day when my father was away, his supply pastor backed out on him. He said, “I need you to preach for me.” I had preached before but my father was always there. It was my first time without a net. The Holy Spirit took over—it was all spirit. From there, I had a comfort level and I knew that was my place. It was the first time I felt success and that I was going to be successful in doing something—that can only be God-given.


What is entailed in your role as chaplain?

I’m actually in charge of the spiritual life of the campus. Not only am I the Lutheran pastor, I’m the chaplain to the school, regardless of faith tradition or background. Wagner has Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists—there are a multitude of worshipping communities. I am there to serve that population. We’re looking at the new church as being ecumenical and trying to get as many people on the same page as possible. With my call here, that is becoming one of those realities.  


What’s a typical day like for you?

After I arrive here at school, I have meals with the students throughout the day. I spend from one to three hours per meal rotating tables, getting to know the students, learning about their backgrounds, any concerns that they might have. If there’s one thing I have been blessed with in this position, it’s that I get to meet the people—like Jesus. I actually meet the congregation and shepherd the people. That trust is then built and they know who I am. I meet with students one-on-one, tend to any concerns that they might have. I attend any sports games and have prayer with teams before the competition. There’s also the worship piece; I’m the facilitator for worship space. I meet with the respective leaders of each denomination here on campus. We connect and learn about the different aspects of each different religion. That way our interfaith work on campus can continue. It’s interesting and informative. And I lead the Wednesday night service. It’s an all-encompassing job position that’s not the normal nine-to-five. I don’t get stuck in monotony!


How does it feel to be back at Wagner?

I graduated in 2005. It’s very interesting to be back in an administrative role, as opposed to being a student. Some of the same staff and faculty are still here, so it’s interesting to engage them in a different role now, to get to know them better instead of as student-to-professor. The faculty and staff are also part of my congregation so I’m looking out for their needs at this time. It’s been helpful, because they know me and I’m very accessible.


What are some goals you have for this year?

Definitely getting to know the student population here. In any first call, you want to know who your congregation members are. I’m looking at a lot of interfaith work too. I’m on campus all the time; it definitely opens up time for conversation. When students come to college and are away from home, there’s so much that goes on between ages 18-22. It’s a huge transitional time. To be able to walk with those students is a bonus to being on a college campus.




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