A South Georgia boy — raised in Doerun and Moultrie — Joe Smith joined the ministry in 1955. Through the years, Smith grew to be the district superintendent for a region of Florida for the United Methodist Church. Along the way, his wife, Gloria, was right by his side, and she recounts their adventures in “Bloom Where You Are Appointed,” published this year by Xlibris.
The title of the book refers to the Methodist practice of appointing pastors and other ministers within the conference. Sometimes, as the Smiths discovered, their wishes and the church’s plans didn’t coincide, but along the way they learned to succeed wherever they were stationed.
Here are some excerpts from Gloria Smith’s book. Boxes represent places where text has been omitted.
Joe was called to the ministry by a nightmare. Early one morning at the beginning of his senior year in high school, he woke up sweating. He had dreamed that he was trying to make a sermon and was doing a terrible job of it. This was odd because Joe had already decided to become a contractor and build houses. He couldn’t understand why he’d have such a dream.
Weeks went by, and Joe couldn’t get the nightmare out of his mind. It became a kind of secret obsession. Over and over, it rolled through his thoughts. He kept asking himself “Do I want to be a minister? Is that why I had this nightmare?” He considered telling his parents about the dream but was afraid his dad would laugh.
He decided to talk with his own pastor. Reverend Adams, who encouraged him to answer the call. “The ministry needs young men like you,” the older man told him.
When Joe finally spoke to his parents about the dream and how he was thinking of becoming a minister, his dad didn’t laugh as he had expected. In fact, his parents pledged their support.
Joe received a license to preach in 1955 while he was still a senior in high school. He would need four years of college and three years of seminary to become an ordained Methodist minister.
After a year at Young Harris College in the north Georgia mountains, Joe transferred to Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. While there, he accepted a student appointment at the Baton Park Methodist Church. With good instructors in the college religion department and the experience of serving a small church, Joe felt that he would be ready for seminary.
Joe graduated from college in June 1959 and went back to work in his hometown. The First United Methodist Church of Moultrie, Georgia, needed him for the summer as an assistant pastor and youth minister.
On Joe’s second Sunday back in his home church, a young lady walked in. Gloria Manning had recently moved to Moultrie from Thomasville, Georgia, where she had attended a private Methodist girls school. She was now enrolled in a local nursing school connected with Norman College. Joe wasted no time in asking this new girl in town for a date. He told his parents, “She is the most beautiful girl that I have ever met, and just her smile will light up anyone’s life!”
Joe soon left for seminary at Emory University in Atlanta, but he kept in touch with the girl he planned to marry. By December 20, 1959, Joe had convinced the young lady to be his bride. Joe and Gloria had a lovely wedding at the church where they first met.
While in seminary, Joe was given a student appointment, the Kite charge. The charge had four churches, three in the country and one in the small town of Kite, Georgia.
If seminary was a piece of cake, then this student appointment was the icing on the cake. It would prepare Joe and Gloria for ministry and parsonage living.
This book is about a couple’s forty-year journey through ministry. They encounter challenges in their personal lives as they move from one place to another. Their main goal is to bloom where they are appointed They do this by helping other people face the challenges and setbacks in life as well as rejoicing with them over the victories in life. Life never stays the same, and it requires knowing how to move on after suflering a setback or winning a victory.
This, then, is their story.
On Sundays, I noticed Joe saying “watn’t” and “dodn’t” in his sermons. Never on a Sunday, but on Monday I said, “Please, Joe, say ‘does not’ or ‘was not’ or at least ‘doesn’t’ or ‘wasn’t’ in your sermons. You made an A in English grammar, so you know better than ‘dodn’t’ and ‘watn’t’!”
Joe had grown up in South Georgia hearing words spoken that way, and he wasn’t about to give them up for any proper professor or even his wife. Those two words and a Southern accent were a part of him, and he kept them for the rest of his ministry, along with some brilliantly prepared sermons. With his natural sense of humor, Joe always kept his congregations entertained.
Joe didn’t want to impress people with sesquipedalian terms, so he didn’t use words that are a foot and a half long. He would rather impress people with a sermon on the historical view of the Bible.
“I just want people to understand my sermons and go home with something that will help improve their understanding of God and Christian living,” he told me.
Weekends, we were on the road again. There were sermons to preach and board meetings, funeral services, and weddings to attend. Sometimes in the middle of the week, Joe had to leave seminary classes and go back to Kite for a funeral. The seminary professors were always understanding about giving a missed-class test at a later date.
With this four-circuit charge, there was lots of work: sick members to visit, programs to plan, needy children to help, and church family dinner dates to remember. Also, at the parsonage, there was grass to mow and a dusty house to clean!
Often, Joe begged me to leave my housework and go visiting with him. “The people love you so much, and they seem so disappointed when I call on them without you,” he said.
He finally convinced me to go with him when he said, “A hundred years from now, it will not matter if the house is dusty.” After all, we were now a team together in ministry.
There were families and friends to entertain. The revival ministers came in the summer. Every year, each church planned a week-long revival. After going to those four revivals and eating big country dinners with members each night for a month, Joe and I didn’t feel revived. We were exhausted!
One fall, the Kite Elementary School had their usual Halloween fair; and the town palm reader, who also attended our church, was asked to tell fortunes as one of the amusement activities. The people called her the real fortune-teller. I was curious, and just for fan, I had her read my hand.
The fortune-teller looked at my hand. “You will have two children, a boy and a girl. You will always be a faithful friend, especially to your family, and you will be the woman behind a very successful man. Together, you will go a long way in life. There will be high steeple churches in your future. And there will always be lots of friends and people in your life.”
“That sounds good to me.” I smiled as I thanked the fortune-teller. Later, Joe laughed and said, “I thought she was supposed to tell you that you would write best-selling novels, and we would someday be rich!”
“I’ll leave the writing to you. It’s your job to write good sermons. If I’ve got to listen to the same preacher the rest of my life, he better be good!”
In the Florida Methodist Conference, the bishop’s office is in Lakeland, Florida. The churches in the state are in districts with a district superintendent. The bishop appoints district superintendents to help make appointments for all the churches in the state. They take care of a lot of church-related business.
Joe had been in Ocala only three years when the bishop called, asking him to accept an appointment as district superintendent of the Gainesville district.
Joe reluctantly accepted the bishop’s appointment. “Bishop, all I’ve ever wanted to be is a pastor, but if this is where the conference needs me, I’ll go.”
“Now, you will have the opportunity to be a pastor to other pastors and their families with this appointment,” his new bishop encouraged him.
Before hanging up the phone, the bishop said, “By the way, Joe, this means you have to be at all the annual conference meetings. You can no longer go fishing before the week is over.”
“How did you know I’ve been guilty of doing that for years. Bishop?”
“Your friends talk!” The bishop chuckled as they ended the conversation.
Joe called me from the church office to tell me the news. Since we had only been in Ocala for three years, packing for another move was the least of my plans for the coming year. I had hoped to finish up my degree in psychology and family counseling. But with colleges and the university in Gainesville, I should be able to finish my last few courses.
Joe said, “At least this should be our last move before retirement.”
I told him, “I think I’ll like your new appointment. We will be free to be with our family for Christmas and other holidays. We have always had to share Christmas and Easter with our churches.”
“That’s right,” Joe agreed. “The pastors will take care of Christmas and Easter in their churches, and they certainly will not need a district superintendent at these times.”
“We can be with our mothers and our children for holidays and some weekends. That will be great. Besides, I’ll have a husband sitting with me at church instead of always in the pulpit.”
I was excited. And Joe couldn’t help but agree that this may be a good appointment after all. This would be our last appointment to “bloom where we are appointed.”
Joe Smith retired in 2000 and he and his wife returned to Colquitt County.
“He loves the farm so much that his wife has a hard time getting him to go on a trip out of Georgia,” Gloria Smith writes. “He has reluctantly done a church service for nearby churches when a minister is sick or needs to go out of town. But he will not accept any full-time church work. He has changed from a workaholic to a laid-back retiree and does just what Joe wants to do.”
Gloria Smith’s book is available in Moultrie at Books and More and Christian Books Etc. and online at Xlibris.com.