For nearly 40 years as senior minister of megachurch Southland Christian on Harrodsburg Road, Wayne B. Smith laced his messages with humor that often resulted in body-shaking chortles from Smith that were funnier than his jokes.
Smith, who retired from the church about 20 years ago, brought his famous laughs back Sunday, but along with them were some tears.
When Jon Weece, the church’s lead follower/elder, told the congregation of several thousand people that the church had a special honor for Smith, Smith’s son-in-law Tim Thore and grandson Austin Thore brought out Smith in a wheelchair to loud applause.
Weece then announced that the church was naming its chapel for the founder of Southland Christian. Weece called Smith “one of the most generous people we know.”
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Smith, 87, said he was “very grateful” to Weece and the elders for the honor of putting his name on the northernmost building of the expansive campus. Then he put his left hand over his eyes and cried.
“Oh, me,” he sighed before eliciting laughter with his chortles when he said to the crowd, “You don’t know the trouble they’ve gone to to get me here.”
Life recently has not been easy for Smith, who is on oxygen to aid his breathing.
He stayed in the wheelchair during his comments. He later said in an interview that walking is difficult since he fractured his hip several months ago, but therapy is helping. There have been complications since a stroke four years ago.
And his wife of 63 years, Marge, died in November 2014.
But the man whom Kentucky humorist Carl Hurley has called “America’s funniest preacher” kept the audience laughing Sunday.
He thanked those in the crowd for their prayers, cards and gifts, pausing to note in a joking manner about the gifts “some of you forgot.”
He got cautious permission from Weece to tell a joke. It was about two inebriated men on a railroad track who thought they were climbing steps. One of the men said he had never seen steps so close together. The other said, “I don’t mind these steps. These low hand railings are getting to me.”
Smith said he recently read in the Bible that God does not share his glory. He said he gives God all the glory for his life.
After Weece prayed for him, Smith was wheeled from the stage.
The resolute preacher briefly waved his left hand to the crowd, not in a farewell manner, but in a “I’ll see you later” way.