BSK alumna overcomes reluctance and finds joy in small-town Baptist pastorate

BSK alumna overcomes reluctance and finds joy in small-town Baptist pastorate

While a student at BSK, Sabrina Smith experienced an epiphany by a small lake at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina.

Before arriving at Montreat’s Women’s Connection conference in 2017, she had been praying faithfully for direction in her life. Bearing some disillusionment with the institutional church, Smith had resisted the possibility God might be calling her to the pastorate.

Peers and professors had affirmed her giftedness as a preacher, but she thought her place in the pulpit would be occasional. However, as she sat at the edge of the calm water and gazed at the pristine mountains, she opened the door to serving as a pastor.

She recalled telling God: “I’ve been fighting you, but I’m giving in. You’re saying I’m called to preach, and you don’t want me to be some occasional preacher. You’ve called me to pastor a church.”

In June 2018, one month after her BSK graduation, she was ordained at First Baptist Church in Corbin, Kentucky.  Later that month, she was preaching her first sermon as pastor of Pine City Baptist Church, a small American Baptist congregation in Upstate New York.

Smith enjoys her life and work, but an uncommitted individual would not thrive in her circumstances.  She is a single woman living 11 hours from her family in London, Kentucky. She took a job as a recreation coordinator in a senior adult community to supplement her modest ministerial salary. The nearest Walmart is a 30-minute drive.

Yet she has felt the warm embrace of her congregation, and she enjoys preaching to them and accompanying them on their life journeys. She appreciates the surrounding Appalachian foothills that remind her of home. “I could probably get to 60 waterfalls in one day if I wanted to,” she said.  Her church members introduced her to huckleberries and took her huckleberry picking her first month there.

Smith feels blessed that Pine City Baptist was willing to call an inexperienced female minister.  She was raised in a congregation that opposed women’s ordination and even forbade them to make motions in business meetings.

First Baptist, Corbin, where she worked as an office assistant while in seminary, is one of the few Baptist congregations in her home region that ordains women.   Smith said the second- class status some congregations assign to women is one reason she became disenchanted with the church.

When she announced God had called her to preach, she was relieved not to be overwhelmed by naysaying family and friends.  “I didn’t get as much negative feedback as I thought I would, but I didn’t get as much positive feedback as I wanted.”

Smith is grateful BSK provided a community that nurtured her call and helped her deal with her skepticism about the institutional church.  Her misgivings, she observed, were fueled in part by a lack of acceptance of human fallibility.

When she arrived at BSK, she was sensing the Spirit’s stirring in her life, but she was not at peace with her faith life and had little vocational focus. Inside and outside the classroom, her professors helped her work through these issues, and she also found support from classmates.  “Everybody was just like family,” she shared.

At BSK, she appreciated the way professors prepared individuals for ministry based on their students’ needs and gifts. “They weren’t going to give me a formula,” she said. “They just wanted to give me the tools I needed.”