In a unanimous decision, the Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church appointed Rev. Reginald “Reggie” Smith to the position of Director of Race Relations and Social Justice.
At its previous meeting in September 2016, the BOT had agreed to combine the role of the director of Race Relations with that of the coordinator of the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJ). As a result, in this new role Rev. Smith will replace two long-standing leaders: Rev. Esteban Lugo, who stepped down from his position as director of Race Relations in July 2016 after serving in the position for 12 years, and Peter Vander Meulen, who will retire as coordinator of OSJ in June 2017.
While these are big shoes to fill, Smith says that God has been leading him to this position for a long time. His first experience with the Christian Reformed Church came through a basketball ministry in his youth at a church in Lawndale, Ill. He was struck by this multiracial church that was eager to live out their faith in community. He quickly came to embrace the denomination, even going on to earn a Master of Divinity degree from Calvin Theological Seminary.
In his first year at seminary, he said, he attended a CRC synod that made an impact on his life. During that annual decision-making meeting of the denomination, delegates were debating whether or not to break ties with the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, which endorsed South Africa’s policy of apartheid. It was hard for him as a black man, he said, to hear delegates defend a church that was oppressing black people in Africa.
“It really became a point for me to ask the Lord some really hard questions,” he said. “I could deal with this in one of two ways. I could say that this is someone else’s fight and get out of there, or I could step in and try to lend my voice and my energy to try to change it. That catapulted me to the work that I’m doing.”
Smith, who has been married to his wife, Sharon, for 27 years and has three daughters, has served the CRC in a variety of ways since that day. He has been a minister of the Word for over 20 years, serving as a pastor in several churches. His most recent church posting was at Roosevelt Park Christian Reformed Church in a mostly Hispanic community in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“The Lord brought me to Roosevelt Park CRC, planted me as a pastor and community member in a neighborhood where I was a minority for two decades,” Smith said, joking that he was surprised to be called as a pastor in a mostly white church in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood, since he spoke neither Dutch nor Spanish. “Yet, I helped lead community transformation because of my abilities to adapt to new situations, collaborate with many parties, and work towards long-term systemic change.”
“I served the Office of Race Relations over two decades to model, teach, and lead a movement that raises up new racially aware and reconciling leaders for Christ,” Smith said in his application letter, saying that he would continue to serve as a disciple of Christ to make the goals of this newly joined office come to fruition.
During his interview at the BOT meeting, Smith said that he was excited to marry his experience with the Office of Race Relations with the existing work of the Office of Social Justice.
“We have some great people in the Office of Social Justice,” he said; “people who have prophetic voices and who are very good at organizing people around what they do. I am very grateful to come alongside of them and learn and listen about where we should get involved in the good fight.”
In its report to the BOT, the search committee agreed. “Rev. Smith’s qualities of collaboration, strengthening relations, making decisions with integrity, casting vision and goal setting, willingness to take risks, and seeking God’s guidance will fit the director position well,” they wrote. “He will come to the task with a posture of learning and listening.”
Smith will officially take up his role with the Office of Race Relations in early March and will begin to phase into his role with the work of the Office of Social Justice in a time of transition with Peter Vander Meulen. He acknowledges that the job will not always be easy, but he is excited to take on the challenge.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight, or in a year, or even in a decade,” he said. “It is a long obedience in the same direction..I think that these offices of race relations and justice stand at the nexus of where the Lord really wants to take us.”