Community Voices

Neighbors in Religion: Retirement party planned for a “pastor of the children”

For more than 50 years, Berdine Smith, 83, has worked in the “vineyard taking care of my little sheep.”

Her “little sheep” are the children in the St. John Children’s Center at St. John Institutional Baptist Church at 1328 NW Third Ave. in Overtown.

Now, Smith says she will “reluctantly” retire. And the center and community she served for more than a half century, will honor her at a retirement gala at 7 p.m. Friday at the Hotel Sofitel, 5800 Blue Lagoon Dr., in Miami.

Smith was hired in 1963, by the late Rev. Thedford Johnson, to be a childcare worker. “I worked under the late Barbara Coleman, who later became ill and retired,” Smith said. “That’s when Rev. Johnson appointed me to be the director. I told him, ‘I can’t do it.’ I said it three times and Rev. Johnson just ignored me and said I could do the job.”

As it turned out, it was one of the best decisions Smith ever made. By accepting the job, she was forced to go back to school to become qualified.

She first entered Lindsey Hopkins Educational Center to pursue a certificate in Child Development Service, Smith said. “That qualified me to work as the director while I worked on getting my director credentials at what was then Miami-Dade Community College.”

The center was renamed the St. John Children’s Center nearly five years ago when Bishop James Dean Adams became the pastor of the church.

Smith said it is her love for children that has kept her at the center all these years.

“I put everything I had into this center, because I love children. I often had to get down to their level, literally, and look them in the eyes to find out their needs,” Smith said. “I loved starting with the children as infants and watching them grow to become independent. I will miss the special times I had with them, like talking and singing to them while changing their diapers. They loved it.”

As director, she did whatever she had to do to keep the center running. Sometimes that meant having to mop the floors and clean the kitchen and bathrooms. “Whatever needed to be done, I didn’t mind doing it,” she said.

Bishop James Adams said Smith reminds him of the Energizer Bunny. “She lives for these children,” Adams said. “I have never met a woman her age who just keeps on going. She is at the center from sun up to well past sun down, worrying about the children. Now it’s time for her to get some rest.”

Adams said Smith will still be free to come in and open up the center and stay around for a few hours. “She truly has the heart of a servant. I couldn’t take her job away completely because she said these children are her life,” he said.

Adams said when Smith started with the center, there was no retirement put in place for her. “So the church will compensate by paying her half her pre-retirement salary until the Lord calls her home,” he said, adding that Smith has never given him “... a day of trouble. I am the pastor of the church, but I call her the pastor of the children.”

Said Smith: “I never dreamed that I would have a retirement party. When they told me, I cried for joy for a week.”

Tickets to Smith’s retirement gala are $75. If you wish to attend, call Edwina Pace at the church office for tickets and more information.

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The special needs community is invited to attend the Association for Jewish Special Education’s annual Hanukkah Party to be from 1:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation Building, 4200 Biscayne Blvd. The event will include music, games, crafts and refreshments that will include latkes and applesauce.

The cost is $3 per person. For reservations call 305-205-3846 or 954-442-9624.

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Hanukkah, which is also known as the Festival of Lights, said Rabbi Getzy Rubashkin, “... brings back fond memories of childhood years and serves to renew our sense of identity. The Hanukkah lights provide us with warmth, joy, strength and inspiration,” he said.

With that in mind, Rubashkin said this year’s Festival of Lights will be celebrated at a public Menorah Lighting ceremony from 5 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 18, at Dadeland Mall. The event is being presented by Dadeland Mall, Chabad of West Kendall, and The Falls.

The community is invited to join in a public display of unity at the Menorah Lighting Ceremony at 7535 N. Kendall Dr. in the new wing of the mall.

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Rabbi Mark Kram, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Or at 11715 SW 87th Ave., invites the community to “... share the beauty and serenity of Shabbat with the members of our small, liberal congregation at 8 p.m. every Friday . Dram said Beth Or’s motto is: “Making the old new and the new holy.”

Call 305-235-1419 for more information.

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Christ the King Lutheran Church at 11295 SW 57th Ave. in Pinecrest, invites the community to its fifth annual “Wonder of Christmas” light display and other events at the church Dec. 19 through Dec. 22.

Each night, the church campus along Snapper Creek will be aglow with lights. Special events are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Dec. 19 and will include live bluegrass music and decorating a gingerbread house. On Dec. 20, there will be a blessing of the pets (holiday attire is encouraged for pets, too) and children’s crafts.

Events on Dec. 21 will include a dramatic presentation, complete with “magical, miraculous special visitors.” On Dec. 22, there will be an old-fashioned carol sing, and Christmas Eve Candlelight worship will be at 6 p.m. for families and at 8 and 10 p.m., I’m told it will “snow” after each service. Everyone is welcome to all events.

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The choir of St. Thomas Episcopal Parish will present an evening of Christmas music at 6 p.m. on Dec. 14 at the church, 5620 N. Kendall Dr.

The program will include a brass ensemble from the University of Miami and the combined hand bell choirs of St. Thomas, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and Coral Gables Congregational Church. It will be the first time the three handbell choirs have performed together.

Timothy M. Lester is the choir and brass director, and organ accompaniment is provided by Canon Alan DePuy. St. Thomas handbell choir is directed by Dr. Maryann Tobin; St. Philip’s handbell choir is directed by Christopher Harrell, and Dr. Ron Morgan directs Coral Gables Congregational handbell choir.

The concert is free.

Send all items at least two weeks in advance to Religion Notes, c/o Neighbors, 2000 NW 150th Ave., Suite 1105, Pembroke Pines, FL 33028, fax it to 954-538-7018 or email bea.hines@gmail.com. Pictures are accepted but cannot be returned.

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