Most of the letters to Baltimore's only mother-daughter advice column concern relationships: how to save them, how to end them, how to get them started, how to tell when they're over -- and how to make them a whole lot better.
This turf can be perilous. But each week, the redoubtable team of Weptanomah W. and Weptanomah B. attack their readers' dilemmas with wisdom gathered from different generations and different forms of therapy.
"To me, God is the answer," says 55-year-old Weptanomah Washington Carter, spiritualist, author and head of the Women's Ministry at New Shiloh Baptist Church. "All I know is to pray. I
used to say, 'You don't need these psychologists, God will answer your prayers.' Then it dawned on me that God intended for these people to help us."
It's a group that includes her daughter.
"My mother is of the generation where you don't talk about your problems," says 31-year-old Weptanomah Bermuda Carter, who has a master's degree in psychology and works as a biofeedback counselor. "The only time you see people of that generation in therapy is when something has hit the fan so bad that they have no other choice. It's rarely elective."
More alike than different
During its two-year existence, the column has provoked lively discussions around town. And the Carters have agreed to disagree on some issues: Compare "Seek God's help in solving your differences" with "Get an attorney."
But as they discuss the column in their family home in Ashburton, you learn the Carters have a lot in common.
Both grew up in houses with ministers. Both married ministers. Both seem to embody the soothing, healing properties of "weptanomah," a wonderful American Indian word for water.
They have acquired the presence of mind that comes from years of listening closely and considering carefully. And they share the graciousness of women who live successfully in the public eye: New Shiloh Baptist Church, with a congregation of 6,000, is pastored by their husband and father. Harold A. Carter is currently in his 27th year leading the city's largest black Baptist church.
Mrs. Carter's father was a minister. Her husband's father was a minister. Her son, Harold Jr., is a minister. So is a nephew. Daughter Weptanomah married a minister last fall.
It seems this family is destined to lead people to new and better ways of thinking.
"I know that people will carry around problems for years and years and years," says Weptanomah B. "Who knows what brings them to the point where they seek help? Even psychologists don't know what motivates people to change."
Spreading the message
The column runs on the church page of the Baltimore Times, a weekly community newspaper with a primarily African-American audience. The Carters' column fame extends into several states, according to Baltimore Times publisher Joy Bramble, and many local readers dutifully send columns to relatives around the country.
There are plans to publish a book of columns, and invitations for dual speaking engagements. Jerome Stephens, owner of the advertising firm Stephens and Associates Inc., wants to syndicate the column.
"The Carters epitomize family values to the highest," he says.
They also present a model of public service. In one form or another, Weptanomah W. has spent most of her life working as a counselor. Famous for her 1976 book "The Black Minister's Wife," now in its fourth printing, she has held workshops on various topics and lectured around the country. Her other books include "Biblical Women Who Made Decisions," "21 Spirit-Filled Messages" and "Today's Minister's Wife."
She directs the Women's Ministry at New Shiloh, a program she began three years ago before the church moved to its new $8 million home near Mondawmin Mall. The weekly seminars, which are popular with many women outside the congregation, include "Spiritual Fitness," "Single, Free and Selective," "Married, Modest and Mature," "Growing through Prayer" and, for young women, "Girl Talk."
In addition, she volunteers for Sisters Together in Reaching, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and their families. She hopes to establish an AIDS ministry at New Shiloh.
"Mrs. Carter is very bright, very intelligent, very caring, all of the things you would expect from a minister's wife," says Ms. Bramble. "She works like a dog. . . . She used to have a column called 'Just Sharing Your Thoughts,' the kind of thing that if you're in a bad mood puts you in a good mood. I didn't want her to stop that column because I liked it so much, but she said she wanted to try something new."
And, much to her mother's delight, Weptanomah B. asked if she could be a part of the new advice column.
Weptanomah B. sends her answers -- neither columnist reads the other's advice before it is printed -- from her home in Cliftwood, N.J.; her husband, Henry Pinckney Davis III, is pastor of Community Baptist Church in Lakehurst.