Pastor still toiling against racism

November 18, 1994|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

When the Rev. William C. Calhoun became pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in 1974, the local clergy was heavily involved in fighting racism and maintaining an active role in the political arena. Mr. Calhoun jumped right in.

Twenty years later, Baltimore ministers fight the same battles, only at a different degree. And Mr. Calhoun is at the helm of the effort.

"The racism is worse now. A lot worse," said Mr. Calhoun, who celebrates his 20th year at the Druid Hill Avenue church this weekend. "Racism was more overt in 1974 and before, then it was covert. Now, I think it's becoming more overt again."

As president of the city's Interdenomination Ministerial Alliance, Mr. Calhoun was instrumental in rallying city residents to register and vote in the recent elections. Before the election, he visited many communities to remind residents to vote and on Election Day rode a trolley through several areas to get out the vote.

Now, when he looks at the close results of the Maryland gubernatorial race, he says those efforts by local ministers paid off: The black church got Democrat Parris Glendening elected.

"The black church got the vote out. We were able to mobilize people," Mr. Calhoun said yesterday. "The black church won the election for that man."

To mark Mr. Calhoun's 20 years at Trinity Baptist Church in West Baltimore, its members will hold a celebration in his honor tonight at The Forum. Although embarrassed, Mr. Calhoun appreciates the tribute.

"The members are special and [that is] what I like most about Trinity Baptist," he said. "They will always be special to me."

Mr. Calhoun came to the Trinity Baptist straight out of the School of Theology of Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va. It is the first and only church he has pastored.

On his first Sunday from the pulpit at Trinity Baptist, he was tentative but prepared.

"I've always been an ambitious person. I've always loved the church. I love the people in the church. I was ready," he said. "There are dark sides and bright sides to every experience. The dark side to working in the church is when the church is lax and the needs are great."

Steven T. Millburn, a member at Trinity Baptist for more than 40 years, said Mr. Calhoun has been a creative and aggressive pastor.

"He's been able to meet the spirituality of the community," Mr. Millburn said. "He finds ways to meet the needs of the people."

When Mr. Calhoun came to the church, the building was in need of repair and the congregation was aging. Since then, however, the church has undergone a $250,000 renovation -- including a refurbished steeple and an enlarged sanctuary chancel -- and added nearly 300 members.

"My goal is to reach as many as we can while we can, when we can, with what we can -- and when I say with what we can, I mean with the Gospel," Mr. Calhoun said. "A pastor ought to be a server of God to the community."

"The church should not just be a beacon light for people to come to it, but, more so, the church ought to go to them."

Mr. Calhoun said he believes that the church should be concerned with those who have the least, and he feels that ministers -- especially black ministers -- should continually fight racism, sexism and discrimination.

The Rev. Walter Thomas, pastor at New Psalmist Baptist Church and a longtime colleague of Mr. Calhoun, said one of Mr. Calhoun's greatest assets is his sensitivity for people.

"He is someone with a heart for the less fortunate and those who don't have a voice," Mr. Thomas said. "He has a concern to see people do better."

Mr. Calhoun is widely known not only because of the ministry and activism, but because of the television show "Lift Every Voice" that he hosts and produces. The show appears every Sunday on WMAR-TV. He also is the host of a weekly radio ministry show on WBGR radio station.

He feels that gains made from the civil rights movement of the 1960s have "retrogressed" and that black ministers have to keep racial injustices in the forefront.

"Issues come and go, needs come and go, but there are some things that are always with us," he said. "Racial problems are still with us."

He cited the recent incident in Union, S.C., where a woman first said a black man had taken her car and her two young boys, but authorities report that she later admitted to having let the car drift into a lake with the children strapped in their car seats.

"When the Smith woman said it was a black man, that lets you know that racism is still alive and well because who was everyone immediately looking for? A black man."

Mr. Calhoun feels any hint of racial injustice is wrong, and he brings that attitude to Trinity Baptist where everyone is made to feel welcomed.

Perhaps Martha Taylor, a Trinity Baptist member for nearly 40 years, summed up Mr. Calhoun best when she said, "He's a real preacher. He says what God would want him to say."

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