Bishop Edward Smith was born and raised in Birmingham, AL. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the US Army. When Bishop Smith joined the army, he was to be stationed at a military base in Kentucky for basic training. However, at the last minute his orders were changed, and he was sent to Fort Jackson Army Base in Columbia, SC. God had other plans for his life. He arrived in Columbia on September 22, 1950.
Having been raised from a child to attend church, Bishop Smith began attending different churches in Columbia. One day he met Sister Edna M. Friday, niece of the late Bishop J. D. Williams. She invited him to attend services at the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, where she was a member. He accepted her invitation and visited the small church located in the Taylors Community near the fair grounds in Columbia. After attending the service, his interest in the Word of God was greatly stimulated. He was so moved by the preaching and teaching of the Word of God by the late Bishop J. D. Williams, that he continued attending services, learning all he could about God’s plan of salvation. On November 4, 1951, after visiting the church for several months, he was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and he later received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Although he missed his ride to church that night, he caught a cab because of his determination to be saved. From that day forward, God began to reveal His purpose for Bishop Smith’s life.
On August 6, 1952, young Brother Edward Smith was united in holy matrimony to the one who introduced him to the Progressive Church, Sister Edna M. Friday. They were blessed with three children: Elder William E. (Sheneice) Smith, David N. (Carolyn) Smith, and Joyce D. (Lewis) Grimes. Bishop and Sister Smith also have three grandchildren: David N. Smith II, Brandon E. B. Smith, and Adrienne M. Smith.
In September 1953, Brother Smith had to make a decision between continuing his military career as a soldier in the US Army or coming back to South Carolina and the Progressive Church. He made the choice to stay in South Carolina because of the Progressive Church. As time progressed, Brother Smith continued to grow in the Lord. He assisted Bishop Williams in the church in many capacities. He served as an usher, Sunday School teacher and worship service leader. In 1955, Bishop Williams appointed Brother Smith as a deacon on trial. After observing Brother Smith’s service in the church and the call of God on his life, Bishop Williams chose rather to license him as a minister during the 12th Annual Holy Convocation in August 1956. He served well as a local minister, and was ordained as an Elder during the 13th Annual Holy Convocation in August 1957.
On September 3, 1957, Bishop Williams invited Elder Smith and his wife to attend a service with him at the Progressive Church in Blackville, SC. After Bishop Williams preached the message for the evening, he announced the resignation of the previous pastor and asked the small congregation if they would like to have Elder Smith as their new pastor. As the small congregation replied “yes,” Bishop Williams asked Elder Smith for his response. At the time, Elder Smith had no prior knowledge that Bishop Williams planned to make such an announcement. Elder Smith answered that the Lord saved him for service and that he would be willing and obedient if it was God's will that he serve in Blackville, SC. He was then officially installed as pastor of the Progressive Church in Blackville, SC with only six members. At the time only one member had a job, which paid just $11.00 per week. However, Elder Smith often gave of himself, unselfishly, to support the work of the small church. He later relocated the church from Blackville, SC to Denmark, SC. With only $400 in the church treasury, Elder Smith and the young congregation began construction on a new church edifice in Denmark, SC. In 1963 they completed and dedicated the new church edifice.
Although many ministers forsook the Progressive Church during the 1950s and 1960s, Elder Smith stood faithfully with Bishop Williams. One evening in 1959, Elder Smith and Bishop Williams traveled to Blackville, SC to pray for a sister in the church who was ill. While traveling down the highway, their car was hit, head—on, by a drunken driver traveling at a high rate of speed. Although their car was totaled, with even the steering wheel ripped out, the Lord spared their lives. Bishop Williams sustained a broken ankle, and Bishop Smith sustained minor cuts and bruises. While an ambulance took Bishop Williams back to Columbia, Elder Smith caught a ride, though bleeding, and continued on to Blackville, SC to pray for the sister.
In January 1966, just prior to his death, Bishop Williams established a Board of Elders to govern the Progressive Churches after his death. He appointed five men, including Elder Smith, to serve on the Board of Elders. Elder Smith served on the Board of Elders from 1966 to 1973. During this time, he was instrumental in establishing an education program for the ministerial body of the Progressive Church. On August 20, 1973, during the 29th Annual Holy Convocation, Elder Smith was consecrated to the office of Bishop and became a member of the Board of Bishops. Bishop Smith served as Executive Secretary to the board along with other board members: the late Presiding Bishop Joel G. Washington, the late Bishop Henry J. Breakfield, and the late Bishop Ernest Finkley. During that time, the organization consisted of several districts, with Bishop Smith serving as District Bishop over District One and the Florida District. During the 39th Annual Holy Convocation in 1983, Bishop Smith was appointed to serve as Assistant Presiding Bishop of the Progressive Churches.
In 1985, the Lord enabled Bishop Smith and the Denmark congregation to purchase 16 acres of land for a new church edifice to accommodate the growing congregation. In November 1986 they were blessed to complete and dedicate their new church edifice, debt free. The congregation in Denmark, SC continues to worship there today.
In April 1987, after the death of Presiding Bishop Joel G. Washington, Bishop Smith became Presiding Bishop of the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc. He also became pastor of the Headquarters Church in Columbia, South Carolina that same year. During his tenure as pastor, the headquarters church has experienced growth in its membership as the Lord continues to add souls to the church. Early in his tenure as pastor, the Columbia Church purchased an apartment building adjacent to the sanctuary that was renovated and converted into a National Church Office Building. This building was utilized for classes and other local and national church functions for many years. The building was later refurbished and converted back into apartments for the saints. Also under Bishop Smith's leadership, a smaller apartment building adjacent to the church was acquired and renovated by the brothers of the church. Several of the saints currently reside there.
In the early 1990's, the Lord enabled the Columbia Church to purchase land adjacent to the sanctuary at 2222 Barhamville Road. Bishop Smith had a vision to build a new sanctuary and family life center for the growing congregation. After several years of planning, Bishop Smith and the saints of Columbia broke ground for a new 1,000 seat sanctuary and family life center in August 1996. It was Bishop Smith’s goal to complete the building project without a mortgage. Everything at the time seemed to be moving ahead as planned. However, in February 1997, the construction company hired to build the new facility filed for bankruptcy. Faced with a major obstacle, Bishop Smith stepped out in faith and became the project manager. He contracted with C.T. Johnson Construction Company to continue building through the use of their contractor’s license and professional advice. Bishop Smith assumed the awesome responsibility of hiring employees and sub-contractors, and directing the day-to-day activities of the building project. He appealed to the congregation to devote as much time, energy, and resources as possible to helping complete the building project. In addition to managing the building project in Columbia, Bishop Smith was also involved with a simultaneous building project for a new family life center at the church in Denmark, SC.
Throughout the building project, Bishop Smith encouraged the congregation as Colossians 3:23-24 states, "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord." For more than two years, under Bishop Smith's direction, the congregation became actively involved in every aspect of the building project, from planning to performing the actual daily work. Bishop Smith designated every Saturday and week nights that a worship service was not held as work days for the brothers of the church. On many nights, Bishop Smith could be found working along with the brothers at the church until 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. in the morning. Bishop Smith also involved the sisters of the church in the building project through cleaning the building and ensuring that the brothers working at the church had home-cooked meals while they worked on the new facility.
On October 17, 1999, after more than three years of construction, the Lord blessed Bishop Smith and the Columbia congregation to complete and dedicate the new multi-million dollar sanctuary and family life center. Because of the dedication and faithfulness of the congregation and others who believed in Bishop Smith's vision, the new headquarters church complex was completed debt free. To God be all the glory! Although many proclaimed that it would never be accomplished, Bishop Smith constantly taught the saints to have faith in God to work a miracle. As the largest congregation in the organization, the headquarters church in Columbia, SC has a rich history begun by our founder, the late Bishop J. D. Williams, and it continues to experience new spiritual and natural heights under Bishop Smith's leadership.
With 50 years of experience as a pastor, Bishop Smith has seen God work many miracles. On one occasion, he was called to the home of a church member who was possessed by a demonic spirit. When he arrived at the home to pray for the young sister, he found her in a disturbed state. As Bishop Smith talked to her, the demonic spirit responded out of the young sister in the distinct voice of a man. Determined that the power of God would prevail, Bishop Smith told the sister to do all she could to call on the name of Jesus. As she was finally able to call on the name of Jesus, the demonic spirit was cast out of her. Through that experience God confirmed the power of calling on the name of Jesus. On another occasion, Bishop Smith visited a sister who was ill in the hospital and unable to walk. As he visited her at the hospital, he rolled her in her wheelchair to another area of the hospital, where he prayed for her. God miraculously healed her body and she was able to walk back to her hospital room pushing her own wheelchair, to the amazement of many who had seen her just a few moments earlier.
The national church continues to grow and prosper under the leadership of Bishop Smith. During his tenure as Presiding Bishop, new churches and missions have been established throughout the country. Today, the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc. consists of approximately 25 churches and missions. As a "pastor's pastor," he has the awesome responsibility not only of shepherding two thriving churches (Columbia, SC and Denmark, SC), but also that of providing counsel and advice to the many pastors, elders and ministers who serve under his spiritual watch. Yet as busy as he is, he takes time to visit with the sick and the elderly, enjoy activities with the young people, and takes time with the small children, and counsel with those who are not saved. With the many members of the churches in Columbia and Denmark, even down to the children, there are few that he cannot readily call by name. The lives of many saints have been blessed and uplifted through his advice, counsel, encouragement and most importantly, his commitment to preaching the Word of God.
Bishop Smith greatest desire is to see souls saved and delivered from sin. Known as a "no-nonsense man," he often states that he does not preach to excite people's emotions, but rather that God has called him to "provoke thought and bring conviction." Bishop Smith travels thousands of miles each year to visit the various Progressive Churches and to encourage the people of God. His desire is to see the organization united and living up to its name of being a "progressive" church. In a time when many pastors are compromising God's Word, we are thankful to God for giving us a Pastor and Bishop who has the people of God at heart.
An Exclusive Interview with Bishop Smith
As a young soldier coming to South Carolina, what impressed you about the Progressive Church? I would certainly say that the physical building was not impressive at all, nor was the location of the church, or the choir. It certainly wasn’t the padded pews, the many instruments we have today, or the central cooling and heating systems because the church didn’t have those things back then. I would say that what impressed me more than anything else was the simplicity and purity in which the Word was taught and preached by the late Bishop J. D. Williams.
At what point did you realize that you needed to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ? I began visiting the church probably in the spring of 1951. After hearing several sermons on the subject and really having been made to understand the gospel message and my response to it, I decided on November 4, 1951 that I needed to be baptized in Jesus name; and I was.
During your early years in the Progressive Church, are there any persons you feel had a positive influence on you and who played a key role in your development as a brother in the church? First I’d say my pastor, the late Bishop J. D. Williams. I will forever be grateful for his influence upon my life. I feel that what I am today I owe to him and to his steadfastness, and to the Lord that sent him. Also, the late Sister Helen Washington, who was a woman of faith. She always had an encouraging word for me that enabled me to hold on through some difficult times in my Christian experience. Another person that positively influenced me was the late Sister Bessie Williams. She taught us all how to pray and to trust God. She would often share her vision with us concerning the future progress of the Progressive Church.
Who were some of the other young men you were close to in the early years of the Progressive Church? The late Bishop Malon Pollock, Deacon Jeff Gilmore, Deacon Raymond Thompson, the late Elder Herman Jackson, the late Elder Calvin Jackson who taught us all how to play the piano, and Elder Heyward Anderson just to name a few. These brothers, along with myself, worked hard with Bishop Williams to build various churches and perform other work in the church during the 1950’s. These are just some of the brothers that I can mention, although there are more.
When did you feel the call of God on your life to go into the ministry? Well, I'd say in early 1956 I began preaching. I never asked to preach. My pastor saw something in me and appointed me to preach. I often look back and reflect on at what point I really felt the call of God on my life. I'd have to say that God put a burden on my heart early in my Christian walk for the needy, the sick and shut-in, and for people in general. Since that time, God confirmed that this was His will for my life.
What do you feel Bishop Williams saw in you that caused him to appoint you as a member of the Board of Elders to govern the organization after his death? As one of the elders ordained by him, I believe he saw my faithfulness and steadfastness in the way, as I was not one that wavered. I believe he also saw the loyalty I exemplified toward him and my church. He felt I had the ability to be a part of the leadership team for the church.
After the death of Bishop Williams, what role did you play as a part of the Board of Elders? I’d really say that I played many roles. I specifically worked hard to maintain the unity that existed in the church before his death and I feel that we are a strong church today because of that continued effort through the years. I also worked specifically during that time as the primary planner of our Annual Holy Convocations and in establishing educational programs for our ministerial body.
Did you ever think that you would one day be the Presiding Bishop? No, I really had no idea that God would call me to do this work. I simply did what was asked of me for the up building of the kingdom of God and for the establishment of this church, faithfully. As time progressed, God moved me into positions where I could be most effective in the up building of His kingdom.
In April of 1987, what was the first thing the Lord impressed upon you when you became the Presiding Bishop and Pastor of the Headquarters Church in Columbia? He impressed upon me the need to unite the national church so that we might progress as our name implies. In order to do this, I was lead to use for our 1987 Convocation theme, "The Church United for Progress." The following November I instituted our first National Unity Conference that focused on issues facing the church and vital to maintaining national unity. I believed, achieving this would enable us to meet the challenges of the coming years. I worked hard over the years for the church to be one as Jesus prayed.
Given that the Presiding Bishop does not necessarily have to pastor the Headquarters Church, why do you feel the Lord sent you to Columbia? I feel the Lord had a special work for me to do in Columbia, for which my prior experience in the church had prepared me. At that time, I had pastored the Denmark Church for about 30 years, served as Presider over District One and the Florida District, and as Assistant Presiding Bishop. While these things certainly were not required to pastor the Columbia Church, I feel the Lord called me to serve during such a time as this. I believe the Lord has since confirmed His will for me to be in Columbia through the many things He has enabled us to do. To God be all the glory.
The Progressive Church has often been criticized for its uncompromising stand on issues that relate to what the Word of God teaches. What motivates you to rise above this criticism and hold firm to Apostolic Principles? I feel that compromising God's Word is worse than going back into the world and doing all the damnable things the Bible teaches against. You'll get no more for that than you will for compromising the Word of God. Many, in the church world today, compromise the truth for the sake of building large church memberships and buildings. God has called the Progressive Church to earnestly contend for the faith, which was once delivered to the saints. As shepherd of this flock, it is my responsibility to ensure that we hold fast to the Word that was first spoken by the Lord, confirmed unto us by them that heard Him, and passed down the line of time to those of us who preach the gospel today.
Do you feel that you have been able to accomplish the goals you initially had as pastor of the Headquarters Church in Columbia and as Presiding Bishop of the organization? Certainly not all of them. While having accomplished many things during my tenure here, there is still a long list of things yet to be done. As I continue, God gives me a greater vision for more things to be accomplished in the coming days, weeks, months, and years that will help us to grow and fulfill our mission until Jesus comes.
You fill three very important roles within the Progressive Church. You are the Presiding Bishop, pastor of the church in Columbia, SC and pastor of the church in Denmark, SC. Given that requires a great deal of time and energy, what keeps you going? First, I'd like to thank God for having been blessed with fairly good health. But I believe it's not just being in good health that keeps me going. It's the power of the Holy Ghost and my desire to fulfill my calling and be able to help others as we travel through this world. The Lord daily gives me the strength that I need to do His work.
At this point in your ministry, do you have a main goal or focus for the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc.? My main goal for the Progressive Church is for it to remain a true beacon of light in a dark and sinful world. I want the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ to stand firm on the principles set forth by our Lord Jesus Christ and preached by the apostles He sent. It is also my desire that the church be an example of everything the world needs. If the world is looking for an example of better marriages, better homes, better reared children, better families, responsible men who love and support their families, and women who love their husbands and children, they should be able to look to the church. That is certainly my desire.
What words of wisdom would you share with young men who have interest in going into the ministry? I would say to them to be men of prayer, faithful in the Word, men who follow their spiritual leadership, and certainly to be led by the Spirit of God. This is a taxing profession, but it is also very rewarding. Every time you see someone delivered from Satan and sin through the preaching of the gospel, it makes all your efforts of preaching and teaching worthwhile. The greatest joy one can have after receiving the Holy Ghost and becoming a minister is to see God honor the Word that he teaches and preaches.
While we certainly pray that the Lord will bless you with a long life and many more years, if you could name certain characteristics that a successor to you should possess, or any other words of wisdom, what would they be? I feel that during my tenure, we have been able to accomplish a great deal both spiritually and naturally. It would be my desire that my successor be a man prepared to sacrifice of himself greatly to continue building on that, which has been established. Most importantly, I would admonish him not to let what has been done fail but, in the words of the late Bishop R. C. Lawson, "add thou to it."
At this point, what is an average day in the life of Bishop Edward Smith? Upon rising each day, the first thing I do is fall on my knees in prayer. Following prayer I try to get in some physical activity such as walking and exercising to keep my body fit for the task of pastoring. On an average day, I spend approximately six to eight hours at the church, although sometimes much more. This time is spent studying the Word, planning, corresponding with other pastors by letter or by phone, counseling, calling the sick and shut-in, keeping track of the discouraged saints, and handling the day-to-day activities of the church. Other time is spent visiting the hospitals, and those who are sick at home. As often as I can, I attend all regular services in Columbia, SC and in Denmark, SC, teaching Bible Study and preaching. I also take time to travel to the other churches to visit and encourage the pastors and saints.