LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Kentucky Baptists have elected the first-ever African-American to serve as president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
The Rev. Kevin Smith was elected president of the congregation during the group's annual meeting on Tuesday in Elizabethtown.
Smith, the teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, acknowledged the historic milestone and said his first task is to "honor Christ and the scriptures."
The gathering at the Severns Valley Baptist Church erupted in cheers when Smith was announced as president.
Smith, 48, said in a phone interview that one of his main concerns is assisting and encouraging Baptist pastors around the state, especially those in new churches who are trying to gain a foothold in a community.
"Certainly Kentucky has a lot smaller towns in rural areas and sometimes our pastors can find themselves in lonely situations or discouraging situations, so I want to try to be as much as an encouragement to them as I can be," Smith said.
In the 1990s, Smith served as a county jail pastor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He said many of the inmates he met with were from broken families, and he said that experience informed his views on the importance of marriage and keeping families together.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention is the state's largest religious organization, with about 750,000 members. The president's job during the one-year term is to preside over the annual meeting and other gatherings associated with church missions and ministry.
Smith was also the first African-American to hold the office of first vice president, in 2006.
He was nominated by Lincoln Bingham, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in Louisville, who said at the meeting that he has "dreamed of the day when Baptists of color would not only be members of our convention, but welcomed as leaders ... I believe this day has come."
The Kentucky Baptist group is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which elected its first-ever black president, the Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans, in 2012.
Smith received 578 of 811 votes cast. Jerry Tooley, director of missions in the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association in Owensboro, received 233 votes.