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Montgomery pastor retires from 56 years of service to state’s churches, prisonscomment (0)

January 13, 2005

By Cynthia Walker Watts

Byron Smith of Montgomery retired in December, after proving twice that you can go home again.
Smith was born in Greenville and moved at the age of 6 with his family to Montgomery where they became involved in Highland Avenue Baptist Church. As a teenager, Smith surrendered to the call to preach and was ordained there.  
From 1948–1951, while a student at Howard College, now Samford University, Smith served as pastor of four quarter-time churches — each church met once a month.
Smith came home from Birmingham on the train every weekend to preach at Letohatchee Baptist Church, Steep Creek Baptist Church, Mt. Willing Baptist Church, all in Montgomery Association, and Titus Baptist Church in Elmore Association. 
With his gentle, kind ways, his soft speaking voice and his kind smile, he built relationships there that he continued during his adult years. 
In January 1951 he met Sarah Jo Fagan, a Howard College student and daughter of the late J.W. Fagan, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pell City. 
Sarah Jo had always said she would never marry a preacher nor a Smith. However, in December 1951, Smith and Sarah Jo Fagan were married by her father at First, Pell City.
Smith continued his education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lousville, Ky. After graduation Smith served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Port St. Joe, Fla., 1955–1971. 
While he was pastor, the church built a new sanctuary and educational building as well as beginning a mission at St. Joe Beach, which later became a church.
In 1971, Smith changed his focus from the local pastorate to prison ministry when he moved to Atmore to serve as chaplain for Holman Prison.
“The first year was a hard transition to the different environment,” Smith said. Rather than a strictly Baptist service, he was responsible for providing services that were interdenominational in their presentation. He also provided counseling for those with personal problems and performed weddings and funerals. 
“Many men died with no family, and those bodies were not claimed,” he said. “We would have funerals for them and see that they were buried.”
In 1978, Smith proved that you can go home again by transferring to Kilby Prison in Montgomery. Every day Smith would go to the infirmary, all through the lockup areas and death row. 
“I felt that I had an opportunity to minister to those with no other source of ministry,” he said. “I became friends with many of the men.” 
After retiring from the chaplaincy in 1992, Smith proved for the second time that you can go home again when he accepted the pastorates at Letohatchee and Steep Creek Baptist churches in 1994. They were churches he had served while in college, 42 years before.
Smith alternated preaching at the churches each week with a joint service on the fifth Sunday. “Some of the same people were there, just older. Men who had been young people before are deacons now,” Smith said. 
Because the Smiths had maintained friendships with the congregations, “we have a sense of family with them,” Smith said fondly. He completed 10 years with them Dec. 26.
Smith believes his strength in ministry is in caring and personal ministry. He is quick to respond to the person with special needs. He wants to be remembered as a faithful servant, a characteristic which Billy Rich of Southside Baptist Church in Dothan says that Smith has already earned.
While growing up in Port St. Joe, Rich was positively influenced by the quiet, consistent leadership of Smith.
In retirement, Smith will continue to enjoy volunteering at Baptist Hospital in Montgomery, which he has done for 12 years, and he can have more time for their two children and grandson Justin.
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