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Idlewild loses another ‘pastor’; church kitchen was Smith-Redditt’s pulpit for 29 years

“Faye’s kitchen was a refuge — a confessional and a safe zone.”

Not every minister of the church is ordained. Not every gospel preacher stands at a pulpit. Not every pastor is addressed as Reverend.

But few ministers were as revered as Glenda Faye Smith-Redditt, who died Tuesday, five days before her 29th anniversary at Idlewild Presbyterian Church.

Her sudden death from a heart attack, three weeks before her 64th birthday, shook a congregation still in shock from the death last month of its longtime pastor, Rev. Dr. Steve Montgomery.

Faye Smith ran Idlewild Presbyterian Church’s kitchen for 29 years, a tenure longer than any senior pastor in church history. (Photo by Carl Awsumb)

“Pastors give their churches vision, but it’s usually people like Faye who give it the heart. Idlewild has lost two pillars. That’s not a false equivalence. She was just that important.” said Rev. Casey Thompson, an associate pastor at Idlewild from 2005-2010.

“I feel like Idlewild has now lost its two senior pastors. Faye truly was the heart and soul of the church,” said Mary Allison Cates, a co-founder of the church’s More Than a Meal ministry to the homeless.

“She taught us to love in spite of our differences,” said Nancy C. Wilson, a longtime church member. “Faye’s kitchen was the beating heart of Idlewild.”

Faye Smith ran Idlewild’s kitchen for 29 years, a longer tenure than any senior pastor in the 130-year history of the congregation.

Her official title was Director of Food Service. It would have been more accurate and appropriate to call her Minister of Food Service or Director of Food Ministry.

“Faye’s kitchen was a refuge — a confessional and a safe zone,” said Rev. Anne H.K. Apple, the church’s transitional head of staff. “It’s where you went to laugh from your belly, be pulled into a hug, and simply to let go and give a good cry. She’d have gospel on the radio, a big pot on the stove, hot coffee and a warm greeting.”

Faye Smith (at a pre-pandemic church event earlier this year), modeled hospitality. “Cooking was her passion and her mission,” said her sister Mae Mae Simmons. (Photo by Frank Kelley)

Faye ran a kitchen the way William and Catherine Booth ran an army, keeping the focus on salvation and service.

She cooked for spiritually hungry people looking for a church home and just plain hungry people looking for any home.

She cooked for everyone who came in the church’s front door and anyone who knocked on the back door.

“I may have been called the pastor for outreach, but she was the primary pastor doing outreach in the community,” said Rev. Margaret Burnett, founding director of Idlewild’s Children and Family Enrichment Center.

Faye reached out to a homeless man suffering from mental illness who was afraid to enter church buildings. She cooked his breakfast every morning and gave it to him through the back door.

She reached out to a young mother who brought her five children to More Than a Meal. Faye walked to a nearby grocery and brought back boxes of diapers and a gallon of milk. She stayed in touch with the family and made sure the kids had warm clothes, good food, and gifts every years under the Christmas tree.

She reached out to a Muslim man who came to More Than a Meal on a night when Faye was serving pork chops. “She realized his predicament, went back in the kitchen, and cooked him something he could eat,” said Ed Beasley, a longtime church member “How kind that was. How respectful.”

She reached out to anyone in need of physical or spiritual nourishment.

“When Faye told me she was praying for me during my bout with cancer, l knew it wasn’t a ‘throwaway’ line,” said Carl Awsumb, a longtime church member who delivered vegetables to Faye from McMerton Gardens, a ministry he helped start in Binghampton. “We talked by phone during my recovery. When I was finally well enough to go back to Idlewild my first destination upon arriving was the kitchen to get that smile and hug from Faye.”

Before Faye came to Idlewild in 1991, she ran the kitchen at the old Circle Cafe. Her customers included church ladies from Idlewild. For the past seven years, she also cooked Wednesday night meals for Emmanuel United Methodist Church.

On the morning she died, Faye Smith’s Bible was open to Psalm 3, which included her handwritten summary. (Submitted photo)

Faye’s fried chicken would taunt Gus and the Colonel. Her bacon sandwiches would tempt the most observant rabbi. Her recipes?

“That’s a secret. My sister would turn over if I told you that,” said Mae Mae Simmons, who has worked with her older sister in Idlewild’s kitchen for nearly 20 years.

Faye grew up in Hyde Park, graduated from Manassas High, and attended Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ, led by the late Bishop G.E. Patterson. In addition to Mae Mae, she is survived by her brothers Bill and Troy, and her children, Ken and Erica.

“Faye loved to cook,” her sister said. “Mama taught her to cook when she was 5, and she’s been cooking ever since. Cooking was her passion and her mission.”

Montgomery, Idlewild’s senior pastor from 2000-2019, often introduced Faye as the church’s most effective minister. He died July 31 from injuries he received when his bike was hit by a car.

“Faye was crazy about Steve,” said her sister. “She took it really, really, really hard when he died. Now, they’re both gone. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy.”

Faye taught generations of Idlewild children how to cook, then cooked for their weddings, their parents’ meetings, and their grandparents’ funerals.

“She was everyone’s godmother,” said Apple. “ Faye modeled hospitality — and it was not judiciously spared for just a few, it was graciously, abundantly poured out for all — a river of love flowing from the kitchen and her heart. Along with the pandemic and inability to gather folks around food, I wonder if it’s what broke her heart.”

On Tuesday, the morning Faye died, the 1987 edition of the Amplified Bible she kept on her desk at the church was open to Psalm 3.

“He surrounds, sustains and saves me,” Faye had written in the margin.

Faye’s food was legendary, but it was her faith that sustained the congregation.

Faye Smith the minister wasn’t ordained. She didn’t preach from a pulpit, but she could deliver an entire theologically sound and biblically correct sermon in four words.

One Thursday evening at More Than a Meal, Fred Terry, the liturgist, couldn’t find the designated communion cup and plate. Discussion ensued about whether they could use the regular Sunday worship vessels.

“Ms. Faye handed Fred the regular stuff, and said, ‘One church, one cup.’ It was the most drop-the-mic moment I’ve ever witnessed in church,” said Kendra Holz, an associate professor or religion at Rhodes College.

Faye’s favorite four-word sermon was one she delivered often to any soul she thought needed blessed assurance.

“Lord’s got you, baby,” she’d say.

This story first appeared at dailymemphian.com under an exclusive use agreement with The Institute. Photos reprinted with permission of The Daily Memphian.

David Waters
Written By

David Waters is Distinguished Journalist in Residence and assistant director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis.

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