- Associated Press - Friday, April 11, 2014

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - The Rev. Allen D. Smith would never compare himself to Moses, but he did lead his people to a promised land.

After a 1999 fire destroyed the century-old historic St. John's Missionary Baptist Church building, Smith, who had been pastor of the church for just six months, kept his parishioners together as they became a gypsy church for the next several years, holding services in several Salina locations, from the 4-H Building to the Salina Community Theatre.

Then, on March 17, 2002, Smith delivered on his promise to bring his people to a new location when a new church building opened at 215 S. Chicago.

“It was like a Moses-going-to-the-Promised-Land experience,” Smith told the Salina Journal (http://bit.ly/1oHjkRj ). “But I not only got to start them, I got to take them into a new sanctuary.”

Smith is celebrating a multitude of milestones in 2014. He turns 50 this year, and he and his wife, Shalonda, will observe their 25th wedding anniversary. He is celebrating his 15th year as pastor of St. John's Missionary Baptist Church, and in August the church will be 135 years old.

“This is my celebration year,” he said.

Next weekend’s Rev. Allen D. Smith 15th Pastoral Anniversary Celebration will commence with two events: a 5 p.m. musical show on Saturday, showcasing choirs from different parts of Kansas; and a 10 a.m. April 13 worship service featuring a surprise guest speaker. Both events will be at St. John's Missionary Baptist Church.

The celebration theme is “Being Made Now,” inspired by Second Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Before Smith came to Salina, St. John's Missionary Baptist Church was old, indeed.

In 1879, when many of Salina’s religious groups were starting churches, members of the city’s black population began gathering for weekly prayer meetings in a dugout on North Second Street. These meetings led to the formation of St. John'sBaptist Church.

After moving to a storefront structure at Santa Fe and Ash, the first official church building at North Fifth Street was purchased in 1882 for $1,200.

In 1925, church members built the three-story brick building, at 339 N. Ninth, that stood for 74 years.

The longest tenured pastor at St. John's was the Rev. J.E. Jones, who served the church for 27 years, between 1957 until his death in 1984.

“It was just an old traditional church at that time with a mostly black congregation,” said Jones’ son, Salinan Joe Jones, 80, who is a deacon at St. John's.

Two ministers followed Jones before Smith was hired: the Rev. W.E. Whitaker, who pastored from 1984 to 1989, and the Rev. T. Ray McJunkins, who served from 1990 until 1998.

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