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Sun., Oct. 4
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Rev. Bruce Smith to retire as pastor of Stone Presbyterian


The Rev. Bruce C. Smith, who is retiring as pastor of Stone Presbyterian Church at the end of the month after 26 years, is a man of few words when it comes to interviews.

“He doesn’t like to talk about himself,” said Jeannie C. Greenwood, choir director at the church at 140 Chestnut St.

But pushing past that reticence you will find a philosopher with a finely tuned sense of humor who became a dedicated minister, scholar and counselor over years of consistently answering a calling to his faith.

“His colleagues are in awe that he was faithful to his congregation for a generation. They all wish they could do that, and Bruce did it,” said the Rev. Frederick G. Garry, pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

Originally from Long Island, the Rev. Mr. Smith came to Watertown in 1987 after earning his master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, N.J., and leading three churches in Pennsylvania.

Looking for a new challenge, he decided to move north. In February.

The Rev. Mr. Smith said he and his family quickly got used to the snow, though it was a little jarring at first to hear the nightly forecasts.

“Two to three inches here is nothing,” he said. “The schools never close.”

But the people of the north country attracted the minister to the area.

“They were fine people and seemed very dedicated to their church,” he said.

And he has no regrets.

“It is a privilege to be a part of people’s baptisms, marriages, funerals — all times of transition. You get to do very happy things as well as try to minister to the sick,” he said.

Mrs. Greenwood, who became choir director at the same time that the Rev. Mr. Smith arrived, said, “Bruce has always been there for me and my family.”

He came to the hospital the night her father died and performed funeral services for both of her parents, even traveling to Western New York to conduct the service for her mother.

“He did more than he really had to do,” she said. “He’s very good about visiting the sick.”

In 1991, the Rev. Mr. Smith also performed the wedding ceremony when Mrs. Greenwood married her husband, John R.

Mrs. Greenwood said that the Rev. Mr. Smith has a good sense of humor, something with which she has come in close contact over the years.

Just before the wedding ceremony, Mrs. Greenwood was at a small meeting of church officials when the Rev. Mr. Smith asked, “And, by the way, do you know where the newlyweds are going for their honeymoon?”

“The Virgin Islands,” he answered, with a knowing sense of mirth.

“He just laughed,” she said.

The Rev. Mr. Smith also would interject funny stories into his sermons, something Mrs. Greenwood said the congregation always appreciated.

Robert E. Schweitzer, retired general manager of Morrison’s Furniture store and a member of Stone Presbyterian since 1958, said of the Rev. Mr. Smith, “He’s just such a gentle, caring person. He’s really affected our lives greatly.”

Mr. Schweitzer recounted how the minister was a source of comfort when he baptized Mr. Schweitzer’s newborn grandson during a post-birth medical scare and remained with the family during the trying period, and how the Rev. Mr. Smith and his wife traveled to Syracuse to be with the family when Mr. Schweitzer’s wife had surgery to remove her esophagus during a bout with cancer.

The Rev. Mr. Smith first heard the call to faith when he was a senior in high school.

He studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Drew University in Madison, N.J., a subject he said provided a wonderful background for going on to seminary and provides a useful tool when preaching and teaching.

But “People want to hear about the Bible, not Aristotle,” he said.

A lifelong Presbyterian, he said becoming a minister was a good way to put his theoretical training to practical use.

During his tenure at Stone Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Mr. Smith has seen things change as the city has grown.

“I see greater need. The community is larger; people are stressed by this economy and unemployment. At the Urban Mission we have more people asking for help. Fort Drum has been a big boon to the community, but there is also great need in the area,” he said.

But it’s time for a new chapter in the life of the church, the Rev. Mr. Smith said.

After he retires, the Rev. Mr. Smith said he will stay in the area for at least another year as his wife, Elizabeth, who is involved with both Little Theatre and Lyric Theater, continues to teach art at Case Middle School.

He will do lots of reading, walking, fishing and volunteer work in his newfound free time and hopes to visit his grandchildren in Virginia more often, as well as spend more holidays with family.

His children — David, who lives in New Jersey, Ellen, who lives in New York City, and Douglas, who lives in Virginia with his wife, Brianne, and their two children, Camerdan and Delaney — no doubt will be glad to receive him.

If the Rev. Mr. Smith is reluctant to talk about himself, it seems his colleagues and the members of his congregation are more than happy to oblige, though even they may encounter an obstacle — running out of words.

“I just can’t say enough good things about him,” Mr. Schweitzer said.

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