By DONNA CRONK - firstname.lastname@example.org
South African native Rod Smith became First Presbyterian Church in New Castle’s new pastor on July 17. A U.S. citizen, he was ordained decades ago in South Africa. His official status with the Presbyterian Church is Commissioned Ruling Elder (CRE). He is believed to be the 38th pastor in the church’s history, dating to 1845.
He is delighted to be here.
“The people are hard working, committed, faithful,” Smith said. “They love their city. They love their church. They’re generous, kind, open.”
Smith resides with his two sons, Thulani, 20, and Nate, 16, in Indianapolis. He hopes to relocate to New Castle.
He is excited about being back in active ministry. His journey to this job dates back a couple decades. It also involves meeting the Danny Danielson family. The Danielsons were avid Henry County community supporters and philanthropists.
Originally from Durban, South Africa, several generations of Smith’s family had roots there. While serving a church in South Africa, he invited Christians from around the world to visit. A team from Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis visited and on that team were Duane and Susie (Danielson) Anderson, the daughter of the late Danny and Patty Danielson.
“We had a wonderful experience together,” Smith said. After that meeting, he was asked by a church search committee to move to Indy and be part of the church’s pastoral staff. He was there for eight years starting in 1990.
An avid traveler, Smith said, “I always knew I’d live in another country but I didn’t know what that country would be. When the invitation came to move to the states I just took it because it fit with what I knew.”
From his service with the Indianapolis church, he left to establish with friends a faith-based counseling service, Open Hand, for the juvenile courts system and for the state office of Family and Children.
Along the way he adopted two sons, Thulani, 20, now a junior at Butler University and Nate, 16, a sophomore at North Central High School.
When the boys became school-aged, he went to work as an English teacher and later dean for St. Richard’s School where the boys attended.
New Castle connection
Twenty years ago he spoke at a New Castle Presbyterian Church’s family retreat where he met Dan and Becky Riley of Greenfield, members of the New Castle church. He recently reconnected with them and learned that Dan was filling in at churches in Lewisville and Knightstown that were in between pastors.
Smith said of the work, “I want to do that.”
He had been aching to preach.
“I even prepared a Christmas sermon in case someone got ill,” Smith recalled of last year.
He was asked in fill in on Jan. 28 in southern Henry County.
“I felt like a jockey who had found his horse after many years,” Smith recalled.
After being asked back to preach again, he was told that New Castle Presbyterian was still looking for a pastor. He was quite interested but didn’t know if it would work out since he is not Presbyterian. But it did, and the rest is history.
“Here I am and I’m having fun,” Smith said, adding, “I’m enjoying learning New Castle, enjoying learning what the culture is all about.”
New Castle Presbyterian Church elder, John Lansinger, has been a member there for 43 years. He said of Smith, “He is a breath of fresh air.”
Lansinger lauds the pastor for his “tremendous amount of energy, care for people,” and the time he has spent meeting with members and shut ins. He spoke of Smith’s “great sense of humor,” and how he has new ideas and jumps right in to implement them, such as contributing to some community services and a new Wednesday-morning Bible study.
Smith also teaches internationally and interdenominationally with a Christian organization, Youth With A Mission (YWAM) which he has done for 30 years. The idea is to train young people to serve around the world. He has taken his sons on countless trips throughout the world.
He has also maintained a daily South African newspaper column for 17 years called “You and Me.” It’s the longest-running newspaper column by one writer in the country,” he said.
Not only is Smith close to his sons, but he speaks with his own siblings daily. His family was close growing up. Along with photos of his boys in his office, there’s one of Smith’s father taken during his service in the British Navy during World War II. The sailor’s wartime boat sank and he survived by swimming in the ocean for days. He swam in oil to keep the sharks away but suffered for months with blood poisoning as a result. He went on to live, however, until 1994.
“He was a paragon of generosity and courage,” the son said of his father. He would like to add a photo of his mother from that period but cannot find it.
The church has Sunday school weekly at 9:15 a.m., followed by services at 10:30 a.m. This Sunday, Aug. 26, however, is a special Sunday when the church will celebrate public education and educators. The pastor issues a special invite to everyone who has served as a public educator, administrator or to people who love or loved educators. They will be honored during the worship service.
Smith has sent invitations to a dozen or more schools and to New Castle Mayor Greg York. York has accepted the invitation to Sunday’s services. First Presbyterian Church is at 1202 Church St., New Castle.
The pastor said that only a fool would not want schools to be safe, but he also sees a danger in making things so safe that freedom of thought and creativity would be stifled.
“I have great faith in this particular community at this particular time at this particular location,” Smith said.