The Rev. Albert Roy Schmidt loved God and golf, Bible readings and bowling, fellowship and fishing.
“The glory of both bowling and golf is that you can put all your problems on the bowling pins or golf ball and really smite them,’’ the founding pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Miami Springs told a Miami Herald reporter in 1971.
Tall and athletic, with such light hair that his pals called him “Whitey,” Schmidt led the church from 1951 until his 1989 retirement.
In 2002, Schmidt described his tenure at Grace Lutheran as “a 40-year love affair between pastor and people serving together as priests of God.”
Mark Schmidt said his father knew since he was 12 that he wanted to be a minister.
The Baltimore native, born July 20, 1926, died at home in Miami Springs on Monday of Alzheimer’s disease complications. The Rev. David Imhoff, Grace Lutheran’s current pastor, called Schmidt “a man of courage and conviction’’ who mentored dozens of younger clergymen. “He was so accepting, and non-judgmental.’’
In his Easter sermon in 1983, Schmidt preached: “God loves us just as we are. We Christians aren’t here to be in the morals business or the rules and regulations business. We are here to tell the simple story of how much God loves us. Because He loves us, He has given us the power to love.’’
Schmidt was 86, widowed 10 years ago when Constance Sahlgren Schmidt, his wife of 51 years, died after a stroke.
Politically progressive, Schmidt spoke out for racial integration, interfaith cooperation and gay rights. He emerged as a community leader during the tumultuous 1970s when the Miami-Dade County school system began busing for desegregation, co-hosted a Public Television show called Man To Man with clergy of other faiths, and helped establish the all-faith chapel at Miami International Airport.
He performed the chapel’s first wedding in 1968.
During his tenure at Grace Lutheran, Schmidt oversaw the construction of several buildings as well as the controversial, 1980s-era expansion of Fair Havens, an adjacent Lutheran Services for the Elderly-operated nursing home.
Fair Havens wanted to add two buildings to the existing Pueblo Indian-style structure that had been designated a historic site. Neighbors feared that a developer might want the property after it secured re-zoning for the expansion in a residential neighborhood.
Schmidt believed it would all work out.
“I think most of these people understand we’re friends and our friendship will survive controversy,” he said at the time.
Schmidt was named one of the country’s Top 10 Lutheran ministers in 1982 by the Lutheran newspaper Perspective, for his “guiding influence in the establishment of the Sutheastern District of the American Lutheran Church.’’
He was instrumental in broadening the appeal of the denomination beyond its German/Scandinavian roots to non-traditional populations, increasing the role of lay leadership and emphasizing social justice.
As head of the Greater Miami Ministerial Association in the 1960s, he warned that the community might suffer if it didn’t accept Cuban refugees “with continued compassion.’’
In a 1965 speech that The Miami Herald described as “blistering,’’ he accused Protestant clergymen of failing to show leadership in the area of civil rights.