Local church acts on its vision

New Shiloh Baptist plans `village' of community resources

May 07, 2000|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Where some might see a vacant lot with weeds poking through the asphalt and abandoned buildings with windows shattered by rock-throwing vandals, the Rev. Harold A. Carter Sr. sees the seeds of community transformation.

As he celebrates his 35th anniversary at West Baltimore's New Shiloh Baptist Church at this morning's worship service, Carter and his congregation are embarking on an ambitious project they call New Shiloh Village.

The church purchased an 8-acre parcel next to the church on Monroe Street, the former home of the Cloverland Dairy, on which Carter envisions a day care facility, a company that will train local residents as auto technicians, an incubator for small businesses and housing for senior citizens.

"It will blossom," Carter said as he walked amid the ruins of the former dairy in his signature black three-piece suit.

Community leaders are excited by the church's investment in the neighborhood.

"The church sits in the challenged part of this community," said David Chestnut, president of the Southern Mondawmin Improve- ment Association. "This area was used for dumping. Kids used the windows for target practice with bottles and bricks. Now you see possibilities of what could be."

This is no pipe dream, Carter says. "You'll see the basic outlines of the village in a few months," he said. In the dairy's former administration building, which retains the landmark, super-size bottle of milk above its entrance, a day care center should be operating within a year.

The vacant lot will be black-topped and used for additional parking for the thriving congregation, which has an active membership of 4,000. Other vacant land could be used to build townhouses for senior citizens.

A garage where the fleet of dairy trucks was maintained is slated to become an automotive vocational training center, with a car repair center run by a corporate chain.

"Since we're a faith community, we can bring something to the process that a strict job training program can't bring," Carter said. "What we'd bring, without trying to proselytize, is character development."

And in a third two-story brick building on the property, Carter foresees a small business incubator, along with recreational facilities for the seniors who would live nearby.

"I could see a small printing concern, a small 7-Eleven, maybe a small cleaners," he said. "Black people won't ever become free until they become entrepreneurs." Planners hope to have the entire project completed in four to five years.

The empowerment of his flock is something he learned at the feet of his mentor, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who encouraged a young Harold Carter to follow his father into the ministry.

Carter was born in Selma, Ala., where his father was a Baptist minister who taught biblical studies at Selma University. His mother was a talented musician and educator. Although he wanted to be a lawyer when he entered Alabama State College in Montgomery, Carter says he had been suppressing a vision he had as a 7-year-old boy that God had called him to the ministry.

"Inwardly I [had the call], but publicly I denied it, and denied it as long as I could, until it was futile to do it," he said.

Rather, it was his brother, Nathan Carter, director of the Morgan State University Choir and headmaster of New Shiloh's music school, who everyone thought would be the minister. "I was lackadaisical," Harold Carter said. "Nobody thought I'd be the preacher."

But a religious awakening he had while working a summer job at the Ford Motor Co. in Detroit changed his mind. He returned to Montgomery and made an appointment to see King, the dynamic young pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

"He was so pleased I came and talked to him. He gave me a book to read on ministry," Carter recalled. "He had me come immediately and preach for him on a Sunday night. It was as if I'd been preaching all my life."

Carter attended King's alma mater, Crozer Seminary in Chester, Pa. While he was preaching at a nearby church on the weekend, he met a minister's daughter who would become his wife and partner in ministry, Weptanomah W. Carter.

After serving at a church in Lynchburg, Va., Carter came to Baltimore in 1965 to become the third pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church, which was founded in 1902.

He has since become a preacher of renown, traveling almost every week to a revival or sermon somewhere in the world. He is also an accomplished saxophonist who thrills his congregation when he performs.

Ten years ago, he made a commitment to stay in the city, dedicating an $11 million church facility. Three years ago, his son Harold A. Carter Jr. joined him as pastor at New Shiloh.

Carter's legacy seems to be set. But when asked if he sees New Shiloh Village as the culmination of his ministry, he hesitates.

"I don't think in terms of culmination. I like to think of it more in terms of a relay race," said Carter, 63. "I'd like to serve as long as the fire is burning in my spirit. I'd like to be running when I pass the baton off to somebody else.

"And that somebody else," he said, "is my son."

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