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SMITHFIELD — When the Rev, Lee Colbert arrived at First Baptist Church of Smithfield, Jimmy Carter was president, “My Sharona” by The Knack ruled the airwaves and the top movie was “Kramer vs. Kramer.”
Colbert has announced his retirement after 40 years, effective Feb. 23. He began work as associate pastor 1979 and became senior pastor in 1985.
“I had finished by first year at Southeastern seminary and a professor I didn’t even know recommended me to Smithfield,” said Colbert. “I was 23 at the time and now have been here six decades.”
The former pastor, the Rev. John Ryberg, died in 1985 and the church wanted Colbert to succeed him.
“Initially I didn’t want to pastor the church,” said Colbert. “But I received help and guidance from one of my seminary professors. It’s a demanding job.”
Colbert, who turns 64 in January, is a native of Alexandria, Virginia. He and his wife, Alice, met in college at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. They were married Dec. 17, 1977 and celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary this month.
The Colberts have two grown children, Lauren, who is married to Travis Alford, and Mark, who is married to Megan. The Colberts have one grandchild, Owen Alford, who will celebrate his fifth birthday this month.
“This is a great place to be,” said Colbert. “I’m grateful to all to all the folks that have supported me.”
During his tenure at First Baptist, Colbert said Johnston County has changed a lot.
“This county has expanded and grown and the way we did church had to change,” said Colbert.
Under Colbert’s leadership, the church has developed weekday early education for children ages 2-5 and after-school care for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. In the summer, the church offers Summer Adventures for children who’ve completed kindergarten.
Ministries include a community kitchen, clothing closet, household goods closet, a Hispanic mission, handyman ministry, Meals on Wheels, backpack ministry, prison missions and GriefShare, a weekly support group for those who have lost a spouse, child, family member or friend.
Colbert and the church were slated to be honored at Monday’s Johnston County Board of Commissioners meeting, whose scheduled time is after the Johnstonian News’ press deadline. The Johnston County Department of Emergency Services sought to recognize Colbert and the church for their assistance to Johnston County during natural disasters and emergencies.
First Baptist opened its ministry center to evacuees following a crash on Interstate 95 South that resulted in a hazardous materials spill on Oct. 19, 2016. Homes and businesses were evacuated, and those affected were taken to the church where they were fed and were able to relax and watch television. Colbert was there to comfort and encourage the evacuees.
Even though Colbert is retiring, he and his family plan to remain active in the church and community.
Dr. Kelton Hinton, director of missions for the Johnston Baptist Association, said Colbert has always had a heart for the community.
“He’s always had a heart for people outside his church, especially those who are down and out,” said Kelton. “For many years they’ve partnered with the African American First Missionary Baptist church on community service projects.”
Hinton describes Colbert as outgoing and friendly.
“His congregation would rank Lee No. 1 in pastoral care,” said Hinton. “He’s always at the hospital.”
Hinton said he admires Colbert’s ability to mobilize his church during crises at a moment’s notice to serve the community.
“I think that will be part of Lee’s legacy,” said Hinton.