Building Beloved Communities traces the life of Rev. Dr. Paul Smith (b. 1935), an iconoclastic Black minister who has channeled his civil rights work into establishing multiracial churches in four cities—Buffalo, New York; St. Louis, Missouri; Atlanta, Georgia; and Brooklyn, New York—over a six-decade career. Following the lead of his mentor, Dr. Howard Thurman (who was also a key influence on Martin Luther King Jr.), Smith has shown how to build thriving multicultural congregations and thereby create the sort of inclusive communities envisioned by Dr. King and others.
In 1965 Smith led a group of white ministers from St. Louis to Selma, Alabama, to join King’s protests. In 1979 he became the first Black minister of all-white Hillside Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia, making him a unique leader among the four thousand Presbyterian congregations in the United States. In 1986 he was elected the first African American pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn Heights, New York, and led that church for twenty years. Throughout his ministry in various churches, he has consciously moved his congregations toward being explicitly multicultural and multiracial, as well as more politically active and welcoming of LGBTQ communities.
Hildi Hendrickson examines the development of Smith’s distinctive approaches to ministry and end-of-life care and his influential work with corporations, colleges, and charitable foundations. With Building Beloved Communities, she details the rich life of a man dedicated to serving as a bridge between Christianity, community activism, public health institutions, and the business world. Based on archival research, historical analysis, and original interviews with Smith and his colleagues, Hendrickson offers a critical biography of the preacher, his work, and his family of origin from the late nineteenth century to the present.
HILDI HENDRICKSON is a recently-retired associate professor of anthropology at Long Island University. She is the editor of Clothing and Difference: Embodied Identities in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa.