On this cold rainy morning, a warm wind is blowing through New Shiloh Baptist Church, the warm breath of divine inspiration. With a choir of 200 dressed in scarlet robes, with the sounds of the drums, organ and piano, with the praisings of hundreds of congregants, New Shiloh is making a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Rev. Harold Carter, now celebrating 30 years as pastor of one of the city's largest and most influential black Baptist churches, is presenting the Word. Every so often, he breaks into song, like a bird taking flight. As he preaches, the excitement builds.
"Somebody said 'Reverend, why do you preach like you do?'
"I got a charge to keep.
"Somebody said 'Why do you pray like you do?'
"I got a charge to keep. I'm not doing it just for you, I'm doing it for my master, praying on high. . . . When I get home, how happy I will be, when I get home, my Savior's face I will see. . . . I don't know how long he's gonna give me, but every day I'm gonna lift him higher . . . higher . . . higher.
Eyes closed, uttering words whose meanings are woven into their inflections, the 58-year-old pastor seems a human transformed. He talks about Mark's account of Jesus in Galilee, the bombing in Oklahoma City, the crisis of spirit in America, his childhood memories of gospel singing. His voice washes over the congregation, carrying age-old griefs and age-old comforts. Some people wave their hands, some sway with the spirit. Some dance in the aisles, propelled by a passion they cannot contain.
Dr. Carter has been preaching this way on Sundays, at least two times a day, for more than three decades. He's preached on most other days, too, from wherever God called: from Romania and Kenya, from the Washington Cathedral, from Camden Yards, from churches in West Baltimore scarcely bigger than a prayer book. He's preached through the glory days of the civil rights movement, through the 1968 riots, through urban renewal and urban flight.
This week, New Shiloh will pay tribute to Dr. Carter's 30 years of spiritual leadership with services, a concert and a banquet for 800 friends and congregants.
There's much to celebrate: The Saturday Church School, which offers prayer and instruction to congregants of all ages. The RAISE mentoring program for teen-agers, the model for the citywide RAISE program. The men's and women's ministries. The daily early morning prayer service. The New Shiloh School of Music. And the growth in the number of women who serve the church in positions of authority, including many full-fledged deacons and the chair of the church board.
In addition, there's Dr. Carter's 26-year-old radio ministry (his sermons air at 7 a.m. Sundays on WBAL, 1090-AM). There are his books, including "The Prayer Tradition of Black People" and "America, Where Are You Going?" There are the crusades in the Civic Center and Camden Yards. And there are the 60 or so ministers, including 34 who pastor their own congregations, who have studied with Dr. Carter.
An inspiration to others
"He has probably inspired more young people to come into the ministry than any preacher I would know of. Period," says Rev. Alfred Vaughan, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Baltimore.
One of them is Rev. Walter Thomas, pastor of New Psalmist Baptist Church. Raised in the Presbyterian tradition, Mr. Thomas was 21 when he first heard Dr. Carter preach. He was planning to become an urban economist so that he could help solve the city's social problems. After getting to know Dr. Carter, however, he dropped out of a doctoral program in economics at the University of Maryland to enter divinity school at Howard University.
"Reverend Carter was able to make truth relevant," he says. "His gospel had legs and hands and feet. I accepted the call into the ministry under his preaching, and he was inspiring in the sense that I began to realize, in listening to him and in watching him, that the answer to the problems our people were facing was to be found in their relationship to God, first and foremost."
Dr. Carter's ministry is rooted in the power of prayer, says colleague and admirer Rev. Frank Reid III, pastor of Bethel A.M.E Church.
"All of the great things New Shiloh has done have grown out of the foundation of prayer," he says. "Dr. Carter has a special calling and focus in his ministry to empower and to teach people how to pray. His first book grew out of his ongoing quest for an understanding of the spiritual and scriptural roots of prayer in the African-American community."
The widely studied 1976 book was among the first to focus on the meaning of prayer for African-Americans, rather than the broader Christian community.