Rev. Lee Colbert is Chamber's 2012 Citizen of the YearJanuary 29, 2013
The Smithfield-Selma Citizen of the Year is given annually to someone who has contributed extraordinary service to this area. It is sponsored by Woody’s Computing Service.
Our highest chamber award this year goes to the Rev. Lee Colbert, pastor of Smithfield’s First Baptist Church. Rev. Colbert has been associated with the church for the past 34 years and its preacher since 1984.
He was born in Fairfax County, Virginia and grew up in the small town of West Point, just outside of Williamsburg. He received his bachelor’s degree in Social Work from James Madison University in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley where he met his future wife, Alice Erb, who was also studying for a Social Work degree. Wanting to begin a ministry of helping people, he started working on his Master’s degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC and in 1979, began his career working as the associate pastor at the side of long-time minister, Rev. John Ryberg at the First Baptist Church. He completed his Masters in Divinity in 1981 and then, following Rev. Ryberg’s death in 1984, the church asked Lee to remain in Smithfield as its pastor.
Rev Colbert has since led the church in unprecedented growth in membership, youth activities, outreach and missions. One of his first accomplishments was the retirement of the church debt in 1986. The next year, he was honored with the Smithfield Jaycees’ Faith in God Award. With Christian outreach as one of his goals, he oversaw the beginning of the church’s Hispanic Mission program in 1988. That same year, the church embarked on a campaign to raise money to build a Fellowship Hall with Sunday School classrooms and offices.
When Lee Colbert became pastor in 1985, he was interested in starting children’s sermons during the church services. Lee said, “These will be brief object lessons, to be honest; adults often remember children’s sermons better than adult sermons. That’s because children’s sermons are brief and to the point.”
With his continued emphasis on visitation and outreach, he started a number of new programs for young people including:
- A WEE program, which stands for Weekday Early Education, for children two to four years old,
- An After School Day Care for children in K through 6th grades during the school year and all day on school holidays,
- Summer Adventures and Traveler’s Club during summer months, including Vacation Bible School and a week-long Music Camp.
During his tenure at First Baptist, local church missions have expanded to include weekly Bible Study at nearby migrant worker camps; Sunday school, led by church members and himself, at the Johnston County Mental Health Center and at the Bright Leaf Flea Market.
The church’s music program has expanded tremendously since Lee’s arrival in Smithfield. A great example is the hand bell choir program. There are several, one of which is led by Vertie Perry and travels to play for other churches in the region.
Youth missions for grades 7 -12 have also expanded at the church during Rev. Colbert’s tenure. Young people began meeting regularly on Sunday nights for supper, fellowship, and Bible study after he came to the church. Outreach activities now in place include fund raisers for Mission Trips, such as the popular Youth Auction, Spring Yard Sale and Sunday luncheons. In recent years, young people have gone on Mission Trips in North Carolina, Alaska, Canada, Puerto Rico and hurricane stricken Gulfport, Mississippi to name a few.
The congregation at First Baptist church is now engaged in many other outreach programs. The church has an expanded Clothes Closet and a Household Closet for the needy. Parishioners prepare and serve meals on holidays for Meals on Wheels participants, operate a Soup Kitchen on Mondays and Thursdays, hold a Thanksgiving meal for those who have no family, and participate in “Operation In as Much,” a day everyone in church heads out into the community to help others, The church also has a Wheelchair ramp program, law enforcement dinners, and is one of the contributors to the annual hot dog luncheon for teachers returning to school in the fall. In addition, the church provides space for daily AA meetings and has supported an office for Habitat for Humanity, Home Schoolers' music programs, Johnston County Chorale practices, and some seminars for the Johnston County School System. Like the youth, many adults have also gone to help in Mississippi, Honduras, New Orleans and flooded areas of North Carolina. Church member Sarai Daniels says, “You should have seen Lee handle the chainsaw, cleaning up the trees that had fallen on a church member’s home during the local tornados of April 2011.”
Three years ago First Baptist Church took on a large project to expand its outreach efforts in our community. When it became evident that current facilities that held the clothes closet, household goods closet and soup kitchen were becoming grossly inadequate, Lee Colbert organized a committee to look into creating a mission center for the church. After the Smithfield Herald moved out of its office across the street from the church, First Baptist purchased the building. Because of Lee Colbert’s dedication to the Lord and his passion for outreach, the church congregation agreed to embark on another fundraising effort to house its outreach programs. This dream became a reality last October, when the church dedicated its new Mission Center. The state of the art facility houses its many outreach efforts, including worship for its growing Hispanic mission. The center has also become home for additional Sunday School classes, youth programs, recreation activities and, of course, the soup kitchen and the clothes and household goods closets.
The soup kitchen is presently serving around 70 people each Monday and Thursday evenings at the center and volunteers deliver an additional 150 meals each of those evenings.
Lee Colbert is a man of God. He has inspired his congregation and this community with his easy-going loving attitude and his sincere caring spirit. He ministers through his actions. On a daily basis you can find him visiting the elderly, the sick, the poor, the downtrodden or those who just need to see a smiling face.
In addition to his wife, Alice, Lee has a daughter, Lauren Alford of Boston, Massachusetts and a son, Mark of Raleigh.
The Rev. Lee Colbert has touched the lives of many in this community, including most of us in this room. He is very deserving in being named the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year.Contact:Rick Childrey, President(919) 934-9166