In addition to her role as Senior Pastor of Elmhurst Presbyterian Church in Elmhurst, Illinois, Traci Smith, MDiv ’06, is an author and speaker around family ministries. Her books, Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home and Prayers for Faithful Families,focus on how to bring faith to life at home despite hectic schedules. She is frequently invited to speak about her books and attend conferences.
“I love being on the ground level as a pastor helping shepherd people through the challenges of daily life,” Smith says. “When I write, I send theories into the world and people must wrestle with them on their own or with their pastors, but it’s exciting when people say my books have helped them fit faith into their home life with their kids.”
Princeton Theological Seminary, in particular professors Kenda Creasy Dean and George Hunsinger, who launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, helped give Smith the confidence to pursue writing. “Princeton Seminary encourages intellectual curiosity,” she says. “I learned that practice and theology go together and it’s not just what you think but what you do that matters. I try to help my social-justice-oriented congregation with those things.”
Smith first realized her call to ministry after graduating from Calvin College. The atmosphere in college at the time was not entirely supportive of the idea of women in ministry, but her outlook changed after she took a job at Southminister Presbyterian Church as director of children and youth ministry.
“The pastor there, who went to Princeton, encouraged my gifts for ministry and challenged my assumption that women cannot be called,” she says. “I went to Princeton Seminary not entirely convinced that women could take that role, but my seminary experience solidified my call to ministry.”
Smith has another book due in December, Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas, and will continue her work to grow Elmhurst Presbyterian. “One of our jobs as ministers, given that the church is in decline, is to think of creative ways to sustain the church.”
Her advice for current Princeton Seminary students and recent graduates is to develop interests outside of theology. “Be well rounded because we now have to be multidisciplinary to help the church remain sustainable,” she says. For example, Smith uses her speaking engagements and conferences to raise money for the congregation.
“Keep an eye open beyond traditional ministry. You need to be ready to be a trailblazer and flexible to do new things.”