New Baptist minister values family, outreach
Wilton Baptist Church at 254 Danbury Road will welcome the Rev. Caroline Norton Smith as its new minister on Sunday, Sept. 10.
Wilton Baptist Church’s last minister, the Rev. Jason Coker, left in July 2016 and moved to Mississippi. The Rev. Bill Bruster was brought in to serve as interim pastor as the church searched for a permanent minister.
“We’re very excited about having a female minister,” Wilton Baptist Church member Phyllis Boozer told The Bulletin. “It will be our [Wilton Baptist’s] first female minister.”
Smith hails from Abilene, Texas, where she served as chaplain at The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest for the past two years.
Her involvement with the Baptist Church and interest in ministry started at an early age.
“I grew up in the Baptist Church [and] my grandparents were missionaries in Congo,” said Smith.
“I always volunteered in the church growing up, and when I was 15, a pastor for the outreach programs asked if I would come help and lead some classes. He ended up being a big mentor for me.”
When Smith went off to attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas, she said, “I knew then that I was going to be in ministry — I just didn’t know what. I was sure I wasn’t going to be a missionary, but if I ever was, I wouldn’t be one in Africa [after hearing] all my grandparents’ stories,” she said.
However, that’s exactly what she wound up doing.
After college, Smith and her husband, Josh, went to South Africa to serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionaries.
After that, they went to Los Angeles on a furlough. Smith served as an associate pastor at the First Baptist Church in Glendale, while her husband worked on his Ph.D. While in Los Angeles, they also had their daughter, Bella.
The family then went back to South Africa, where Smith served as pastor at the Refilwe Community Project, an organization that provides care to children to break the cycle of poverty and empower parents and individuals to become spiritually, socially, emotionally and materially sustainable. Her son, Noah, was born in South Africa.
While in South Africa, a child-trafficking ring started near where they were staying in Johannesburg.
“Security in Johannesburg was bad, and we knew that going back the second time with Bella, but we were taking all the precautions,” Smith said.
After “several children were picked up,” including those of people they knew, Smith said, she and her family decided “that chapter was closed,” and returned to the United States.
“We were back in Texas on our furlough that we were due to take anyway, trying to decide where we would be next,” she said.
That’s when she started serving as chaplain of The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest’s school for two-year-olds through fifth-graders, said Smith, “which was so fun.”
During that time, Smith also interviewed at “quite a few different churches” — including ones in Los Angeles, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, as well as the Wilton Baptist Church.
“I just really felt that this [church] was the right place,” she said. “It’s great that the church is very family-oriented. There are lots of kids and the focus is on family, which is good for me because I need a church that’s supportive of my family.”
Smith said not all the churches she interviewed at were as family-oriented as the Wilton Baptist Church.
“That was very important for me,” she said, “so that was one of the big reasons for coming here and just the people in the church are so friendly.”
Smith, who arrived in town the evening of Aug. 19, said members of Wilton Baptist Church have been “so friendly” and “so caring.” She and her children are staying with church members while her husband finishes the closing on their house in Texas.
“So many people have been helping, caring and supporting us, which is more affirmation for me that I’m in the right place,” she said.
Once their home is sold, the family will move into a home on Cedar Road to be “close to the church and schools.”
As Wilton Baptist Church’s new minister, Smith said, she hopes to “deepen people’s commitment” to family and outreach and “walk with them in life circumstances.”
“We do those two things — caring for our families and helping others in the community — really out of calling, out of direction and out of the Lord’s guidance,” she said.
“We care for not just our own family, but families in the [greater] community. Same thing for outreach — reaching out and helping others in the community to share the love of Christ.”
Smith said it’s also important for her to make sure that church members understand “the promises given to us [by God] in scripture, and that we are all part of the same story.”
Information: wiltonbaptist.org or 203-762-2429.