Feast of John Owen Smith (December 3)   Leave a comment

Methodist Bishop in Georgia, 1960-1968; United Methodist Bishop in Georgia, 1968-1972; died on December 2, 1978

John Owen Smith was born on December 1, 1902, in Johnston, South Carolina.  He attended and graduated from Wofford College and Yale University.  In 1924 Smith married Mildred Brown; the couple had two daughters.  Smith joined the South Carolina Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1925.  He served as a district superintendent, sat on denominational boards, and attended Methodist General Conferences and Jurisdictional Conferences as a delegate.

In 1939 three branches of U.S. Methodism, including the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, reunited to form The Methodist Church.  One aspect of the newly unified denomination was the creation of jurisdictions, or groupings of annual conferences.  Five were geographical:  Southeastern, Northeastern, North Central, South Central, and Western.  The sixth, the Central Jurisdiction, was purely African-American.  Thus The Methodist Church was segregated.

When Smith became Bishop in 1960 and received his appointment to the Atlanta Area (then the North Georgia Annual Conference and the South Georgia Annual Conference) the denomination had resolved (in 1956) to find a way to abolish the Central Jurisdiction and to integrate the annual conferences.  This was controversial Georgia, especially in the South Georgia Annual Conference, which passed resolutions opposing this integration.  Bishop Smith stood with his fellow bishops and supported racial integration in general, and the abolition of the Central Jurisdiction in particular.  In fact, one of his final acts as an active bishop was to preside over the integration of the annual conferences in Georgia, in 1972.

Consider this statement from the 1964 Doctrines and Discipline of The Methodist Church (page 685):

Racial segregation has been expressed in the life and structure of The Methodist Church.  The bishops of the church, meeting in council, have spoken sharply to the racial issue: The Methodist Church stands for the equal rights of all racial, cultural, and religious groups.  We confess with deep penitence that our performance as a church has not kept pace with our profession….

Consider, also, this, which Bishop Smith addressed to the South Georgia Annual Conference in 1963:

Nothing during the next twenty-five years is more important than learning how to live together in understanding and peace around the world.  Whatever hurts people is wrong; world peace will come when there is a setting in which peace can grow.

And Smith addressed the following to the South Georgia Annual Conference in 1964:

We may not always agree on every point.  Some of the twelve hand-picked disciples differed with Christ during their association with Him.  Our Methodist Church is big enough and great enough to include people of differing points of view.  As long as we are well blessed spiritually, appreciate the full significance of salvation in Christ and have the thrilling concept of the Kingdom idea, we can work toward a Christian solution to our problems.

History has proven Bishop Smith correct.


Almighty God, you have raised up faithful bishops of your church, your servant John Owen Smith.  May the memory of his life be a source of joy for us and a bulwark of our faith, so that we may serve and confess your name before the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3;14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

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