On Sunday, when one of the city’s oldest churches moves into its newly completed, $33 million megachurch at 38th and Indiana, it will be another testament in the notable journey of the church and its pastor.
Apostolic Faith Church broke ground in 2015 on the complex they hope will serve as an anchor in Bronzeville and a safe haven for youth.
“We’re huge on youth development and mentoring, education and scholarships, HIV/AIDS work globally,” says the church’s pastor of 37 years, the Rev. Horace E. Smith. He has been healing body and soul as both a preacher and a pediatric hematologist/oncologist transplant physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital for some 40 years.
“I’ve been blessed that my journey has allowed me to merge two worlds, science and faith,” says the 67-year-old Smith. “God is the author of all knowledge, so faith and science are not competitors. They really are allies, because true science, which is based on truth, reveals the wonder of God. There is no conflict.”
He will christen the new 3,000-seat sanctuary with morning services. The building also has classrooms and a recreation center.
The church is celebrating 102 years in Bronzeville, now an up-and-coming neighborhood, but once called the Black Belt in the Great Migration, in which African-Americans left the South.
Then, African-Americans were segregated into this congested area. In 1915, Elder A.R. Schooler, coming up from Cleveland, began holding worship with a small group in a home near 30th and Dearborn.
In 1919, the group bought a two-story, four-flat building at 3813 S. Indiana Ave. When Schooler passed in 1931, John Silas Holly, who’d come up from Louisiana, remodeled the building into a church with a 500-seat auditorium. It was the height of The Great Depression, and he did most of the work himself, the stories go.
Meanwhile, Smith was growing up in this same neighborhood. After his mother died of sepsis when he was 10, his father had to raise six children on his own. His father, then a cabdriver, joined the Chicago Police Department to be able to take care of his family, who moved into Chicago Housing Authority projects near 39th Street and Lake Parc.
“The week we moved in, my father puts on his police uniform, called the gang members together and told them: ‘My sons will not join a gang. You will not recruit them. If you do, I’ll get all of you,'” Smith recounts.
Smith went on to be one of the first African-American students to integrate Lindblom High School. “It was the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. We were bused in. There were three African American students in a school of 3,000. We weren’t very welcome. But I was a nerd,” he says. “I loved school, and graduated in the top 10 percent of my class. My father said, ‘I have no money to send you to college.'”
His principal found him a scholarship for aspiring biology teachers at Chicago Teachers College, now Chicago State University. After graduating, he earned a scholarship to medical school at the University of Illinois. He worked various jobs to help pay his way; “You name a job, I did it,” he says.
A member of the church since childhood, Smith became its third pastor in 1980. When approached after Holly’s death, Smith had just completed four years of medical residency. “Doctor” was what he’d worked for; “pastor” was not a goal.
“I was 30 years old. I had a contract for a $75,000 salary and one-third ownership of a pediatric practice in my briefcase. The elders asked me to pray on it. I said ‘Sure,’ figuring I’d never get the votes,” he recounts.
But he did. And he obeyed the calling, at the same time volunteering at Children’s Memorial. His congregation grew from 125 to 1,000.
“We were inspired to build a new church, but I didn’t know how we were going to do that with my small salary,” Smith says.”That same week, Children’s Memorial called and said, ‘We need you back full time.’ I explained I’m a pastor and can’t do weekend or night work or be on call. They said fine, and put in my contract, ‘Dr. Smith’s medical duties can never abrogate his pastoral responsibilities.’ ”
Today, the church boasts 3,000-plus families. To what does he attribute the growth? “The Lord,” he says simply.
A 10-year mortgage on the current church at 3823 S. Indiana was paid in two years. In that same time, Smith became director of Children Memorial’s Comprehensive Sickle Cell/Thalassemia Program, a position he held for 20 years.
A widely recognized expert in thalassemia — an inherited blood disorder in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin — Smith is an assistant professor at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine; author of the 2010 book, “Blood Works: The Insights of a Pastor and Hematologist Into the Wonder and Spiritual Power of Blood,” and a frequent lecturer at universities nationwide.
Three capital campaigns later, the dynamic congregation itself contributed two-thirds of the megachurch’s $33 million pricetag.
“I am humbled, excited, and a little bit overwhelmed. To whom much is given, much is required,” says Smith. “Much will be required of us, but we’re up to the challenge.”