Methodist minister sees herself a 'vessel' for God

February 21, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson and Lisa Respers | Traci A. Johnson and Lisa Respers,Staff Writers

The Rev. Joan E. Carter-Rimbach uses a hands-on approach to the Lord's work.

"I hug everybody as they are leaving," said Mrs. Carter-Rimbach, pastor of Union Street United Methodist Church in Westminster. "For some of the older folks, and some of the younger ones, too, the only times they get hugs are when they come to church. And, hey, I need hugs, too."

As one of 12 children, the former Joan Eileen Carter of Northwest Baltimore probably got enough hugs to last a lifetime.

But she said she'll share a hug, or a bit of her time, if it will help someone.

"I knew I wanted to help people, and being a pastor is an awesome responsibility," said the 34-year-old Owings Mills resident. "From what I preach, someone's life can be turned around.

"I do not take my preaching lightly. I am a vessel for God's work, and what I do is important."

When Mrs. Carter-Rimbach's arms are not wrapped around one of her parishioners, they are outstretched to the community that surrounds the tiny white church nestled between downtown Westminster and Western Maryland College.

She feels she can provide a positive example to the children in the predominantly black neighborhood surrounding her church.

"I hope that young black girls and boys see me as a role model," she said. "Our black children need to see that there are good role models.

"If we want our children to be like us, what are they going to be?" she asked. "I think to myself, 'Did I do the type of things that I would want a young person see me do? Do I go out to the clubs all night and dance, or am I visible in the community?' "

Not only is Mrs. Carter-Rimbach visible in her church community, she helps her new husband, the Rev. David Carter-Rimbach, spread the word of God at his church, Hampden United Methodist Church in Baltimore.

Although the Hampden area has a reputation for racist behavior, Mrs. Carter-Rimbach said her interracial marriage has been met with kindness and acceptance from her husband's congregation, which will share worship services with Union Street UMC on the first Sundays in May and June.

"I try not to look at color and things that serve as a barrier to whowe serve," she said. "We are all people."

Mrs. Carter-Rimbach came to Carroll in 1987 after receiving her master's of divinity from Howard University in 1986, doing field work at a girls' shelter in Baltimore County, and serving as pastor of St. John's UMC, a Northwest Baltimore church.

She then became minister to three parishes -- Fairview, Strawbridge and Union Street United Methodist churches, each in a different part of Carroll County.

"I simply didn't have time to do that in all three churches. It was not good for the people and not good for me, either," she said.

"They weren't getting any real ministry. Just a pastor on Sunday."

When she became full-time pastor for Union Street in 1991, her mission began.

"For anyone that comes through those doors, we are here to meet their needs," said Mrs. Carter-Rimbach. "But there is no ministry when we cannot get out into the community and meet the people."

And she didn't mean just blacks. As she met the community and got used to her new parish, she was careful not to let rumors about racism in Carroll taint her vision.

"I know what people think about this county, but I try not to stereotype people, put them into those types of categories," said Mrs. Carter-Rimbach, a member of the Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality, a group started last year to improve county race relations.

"But in very subtle ways, racism is still around here.

"It's a different mentality out here," she said.

"For too long things like [racism] have been going on and people haven't wanted to talk about it."

People also didn't like to talk about drug incidents in the county, such as the drug-deal-gone-sour that claimed the life of a Westminster man last month on South Center Street, she said.

"It's no secret that drugs exist in Carroll County," Mrs. Carter-Rimbach said.

"It was just a matter of time before something happened. It's unfortunate that something this serious had to happen to wake the community up."

In many ways, the community around the church has awakened, at least to the minister's teachings. Church volunteers provide tutoring to area youths in need of extra help with school work and they plan activities for the congregation's senior citizens.

And the tiny church is filled each Sunday with about 100 people, singing and worshiping in the 120-seat sanctuary.

"One of the things about this church is that when you come in, you feel the warmth," said Mrs. Carter-Rimbach.

But when she is in the pulpit, Mrs. Carter-Rimbach, who doubles each Sunday as both pastor and choir member, sees many facets to her pastoral role -- including teaching people about one another, themselves and God.

"I shake all of the time while I'm preaching," she said.

"I always have a nervousness. It's such an important job I am doing, that when I stop being nervous about it I know it will be time to quit."

John Harris III of The Sun staff contributed to this article.

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