A renewal of strength

Pastor: The Rev. Johnny N. Golden Sr., president of CURE in East Baltimore, is a man who understands struggle.

January 13, 2000|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Outside the cream Formstone front of New Unity Baptist Church in East Baltimore, on the board listing the times of the weekly services, is a passage from the prophet Isaiah.

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," it reads, quoting Chapter 40, Verse 31, "they shall mount up with wings as eagles."

The Rev. Johnny N. Golden Sr., the 48-year-old pastor of New Unity, sees that verse as his manifesto as he takes over the leadership of a group called CURE, a coalition of 120 churches that seeks to right social wrongs in East Baltimore.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun gave an incorrect title for the Rev. Douglas Wilson. He is the executive secretary of Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore. The Sun regrets the error.

"The eagle can soar in rarefied air where few others can go," said the goateed Golden, leaning forward in his chair and reaching out his arms, the preacher in him coming out. "It has a view few others have because it is willing to go to these heights."

It is a willingness to face and tackle challenges that enabled the man to become a minister after years of going to school at night while working all day. And it is that same willingness to embrace struggle that will help him as he becomes president later this month of Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore, one of the city's most visible and effective clergy coalitions. An induction ceremony will be held Jan. 21.

Golden was born in Greenville, S.C., and "like a lot of blacks in the '50s and '60s, we migrated north," he said. In 1962, his mother took Golden and his four siblings to live with an aunt in Baltimore, just blocks from where he now preaches in the church on Polk Street.

After several years, Golden's mother moved the family into their own place, an apartment in the Lafayette Courts housing project, a place he had no love for. "A housing project has never been a good place to live," he said. "They are nothing more than legitimate concentration camps."

Still, when the high-rise east of downtown was demolished in 1995, he went down and picked up a brick, which he keeps on a bookshelf in his office. "I went down there to get a brick because I never wanted to forget from whence I came," he said.

After a stint in the Army in Germany, he returned and married Wanda Allender. They settled in Essex and had a daughter, Keenya, and a son, Johnny N. Golden Jr., who is called "Boomer." Golden began doing custodial work at Replacement Parts Services, a company in Southwest Baltimore, eventually becoming operations manager.

At night, he took the bus from work to accounting classes at Essex Community College, eventually earning an associate's degree after five years. "No car, working in the city, living in the county, taking public transportation. It was brutal," he said. "Those days, it was definitely a struggle. So much of who I am, it has been a struggle. The salmon swimming upstream to spawn, that's something I identify with, that struggle."

Golden had been a longtime member of the Christian Life Church in Lochearn, where he was called as a minister on New Year's Eve 1982, but felt led to urban ministry and soon joined New Shiloh Baptist Church, the West Baltimore congregation led by Harold A. Carter Sr., one of the city's most prominent ministers.

"That was a spiritual awakening," he said. "The dynamism of a Harold Carter, his sheer presence, the way he approached the Word and approached ministry, just bowled me over. So I finally just cast my life there."

Golden served as an assistant to the pastor at New Shiloh, and with the congregation's encouragement and financial support, he earned his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 1994.

By 1994, Golden was ready for his own church. He was called by the New Unity Baptist Church congregation and preached his first sermon there on Dec. 11 that year. As the man in charge, he was struck by the fact "that you are always `on,' " he said. "The whole vision, the whole thrust of the ministry now must come out of you."

And he learned something he had long sensed. Good preaching alone won't make it. "It has got to be more than emotion," he said. "There must be some intellectual content to make this happen. The shout and holler and glory of Sunday quickly fades."

His colleagues in the ministry described him as an old-style preacher. "I just like to see him when he really gets into the preaching," said the Rev. Phillip Fulcher, pastor of Jordan Community Church in West Baltimore. "He really moves around a lot, jumps around a lot."

"He reminds me of [the late city comptroller and civic poet] Hyman [A.] Pressman," said the Rev. Douglas Wilson, a former president of CURE and a close friend of Golden. "He's always got a quip, an anecdote, a story, a rhyme or poem or some tidbit of information that's either historical, or is just humorous."

A focus of Golden's ministry has been outreach to youth. A colleague, the Rev. Brad Braxton, pastor of the Douglas Memorial Community Church, said that after a recent visit to Golden's 350-member church, he was impressed.

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