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Originally published Monday, December 20, 2010 at 7:51 PM

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Pastor Wendell Smith, City Church founder, dies

Pastor Wendell Smith could draw thousands to his church on weekends, yet he also delighted in talking one on one about everyday life with church members. As busy as he was with The City Church, one of the area's largest churches, he always protected his time with his family. Pastor Smith died Sunday at age 60.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Pastor Wendell Smith could draw thousands to his church on weekends, yet he also delighted in talking one on one about everyday life with church members.

As busy as he was founding, building and colead-pastoring The City Church, one of the area's largest churches, he also always protected his time with his family.

That mix of the charismatic and humble, the preacher and the family man, is among the things Pastor Smith is being remembered for. After a six-year battle with cancer, he died Sunday at age 60, at a hospital in Las Vegas, surrounded by family and friends.

"My dad was my hero in every way," said Pastor Judah Smith, Pastor Wendell Smith's son and the current colead pastor of The City Church.

His father had "an incredible sense of humor and a pretty amazing ability to encourage people," Judah Smith said. "He'd make them feel valuable and appreciated."

Wendell Smith was born in 1950 in Tacoma to a family with a long history of serving in the clergy. He attended Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, where he met Virginia (Gini) Melton. The two married in 1972.

After serving as youth pastors at Bible Temple (now City Bible Church) in Portland for 20 years, the Smiths moved to the Seattle area, where they founded The City Church, a nondenominational, evangelical church.

They felt strongly about reaching out and helping people in a metropolitan city, said Judah Smith.

The church started small in 1992, with 21 people. For a while, members met in office and retail spaces on the Eastside, including, at one point, a tent in the parking lot of a strip mall.

"People walked into the tent thinking there was a sale," remembers Judah Smith. His father "absolutely found it funny." While some people left, others stayed.

These days, about 6,000 people attend weekend services at six campuses including those in Kirkland, Issaquah, Belltown and the University District.

Pastor Smith, who received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 2007 from Northwest University in Kirkland, was also the author of several books including "Great Faith," "Prosperity with a Purpose" and "Faith for Healing."

Even while he was building the church, Pastor Smith made sure to spend a lot of time with his family. They would talk about Bible stories before bed, and he would play "Answer Man" regularly — encouraging Judah and his older sister to ask any questions they wanted to, and coming up with answers for them.

"His thought was that 'church ministry will always be there,' " Judah Smith said. But he had only one family, "and life is short."

In addition to his wife, son and daughter-in-law Chelsea Smith, Pastor Smith is survived by daughter Wendy Perez and her husband, Benny, of Henderson, Nev., and six grandchildren.

The City Church will host a memorial service at 6 p.m. Jan. 7 at its Kirkland campus, 9051 132nd Ave. N.E.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations go to the Rose Hill Cottages, a nonprofit ministry that provides housing for foster families in the Seattle area, at www.thecity.org/giving, or to the Wendell Smith Auditorium at The Church at South Las Vegas, www.thechurchlv.com.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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