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Pastor, music minister mark long tenure togethercomment (0)

May 28, 2009

By Emily Flack

Welcome home — that’s the motto of Providence Baptist Church, Opelika. But it’s not just a catchy phrase, they say — “it is how we want you to feel when you visit Providence Baptist Church.”

With a motto like that, who wouldn’t want to come — again and again and again?

The catchy phrase and equally catchy atmosphere definitely did the trick for Pastor Rusty Sowell and Music Minister Thomas R. Smith.

On April 26, the Tuskegee Lee Association church held a double anniversary celebration for Sowell (25 years) and Smith (35 years) who during their extensive ministry have provided dedicated service to the church.

Of course things have changed over the years, Smith said. A few people have come and gone and the makeup of the church is slightly different. But for the most part, Providence Baptist has had a stable core of people who have been consistent the entire time, he said — it’s family there.

“The philosophy of ministry and the areas of worship and outreach of our church have maintained consistency throughout the years,” Smith said. “We try to maintain a good quality to do our best and provide something that ministers to everyone.”

Smith and Sowell, who both grew up in church, say they found a good fit with each other and have worked well side by side for 25 years.

“We understand involvement. Both of our dads are deacons; both of us have a strong family support system, a love for church and a love for God,” Sowell said.

Coming into Smith’s established ministry could have caused difficulty, but Smith said it brought the two closer. “It was interesting, because there had to be a sense of give and take since I knew the people and the area, but I wanted to let him lead as the pastor should,” Smith said. “As a result, we work together very closely. I really respect him as my pastor and my friend.”

Sowell agrees that the relationship has worked well. “It’s a blessing from God,” he said. “Tom and I have never had a cross word.”

And the music Smith chooses is an affirmation of what God is saying to both of the men, Sowell said.

Wayne Poe, an active deacon at Providence Baptist, has been there for 51 years and has witnessed a lot of mileage covered over the course of his time at the church.

“Dr. Sowell is not just a leader, he is a part of the family,” Poe said — so much so, he explained, that “in the past, when a pastor would come to your house you’d spend a week cleaning, but when family comes to your house you just kick the dog out of the chair and tell him to sit down.”

Sowell is that kind of family, Poe said. He is always there — through the bad times and the good times, through deaths and births.

And Smith is too, according to Lelia Gilmer.

Gilmer was in the youth choir when Smith came to Providence.

“I’m now 47 and in the adult choir,” she said. “I am honored to sing under him. Dr. Tom gives the same amount of enthusiasm for 10 people as if it were 10,000.”

Building such long-term relationships has been a blessing for Smith, who says that the children of those who were once in the youth choir are now singing with their parents in the adult choir.

It’s a community of believers that’s grown strong over time and, according to Poe, is growing every day.

“Our community is growing and hopefully our church is a place where people are welcomed into the family,” he said. “It is the church family’s responsibility to choose leaders through prayer. We feel like God’s hand was in their coming (Sowell and Smith) and still is.”

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