Archbishop Naomi C. DuRant’s Altar Call

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By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO

If your connection to Baltimore radio runs through R&B and gospel stations WSID, WEBB, and WBGR, then it’s quite likely that you’re familiar with the late Archbishop Naomi C. DuRant. Maybe you were one of the countless listeners who, through the years, started their day by responding to her morning “Altar Call” to have their names and the names of loved ones placed on the altar by “The Pastor,” as she was affectionately known. Or, you may have been one of the many young children whose talents she presented to the world on “Kiddie Commute.” It’s even possible that you recall hearing her make event and programming announcements. 

Archbishop Naomi C. DuRant. (Courtesy photo)

During her tenure at Baltimore and DC radio stations, she was a highly-recognizable force, who filled many roles. She began her radio career as a traffic director, but once Diamond Jim Sears noticed her abilities, he provided the opportunity for her to be heard on-air at WSID.

Conversations with family and friends reveal that while the Archbishop had many God-given gifts and talents, she always endeavored to build on those abilities through the pursuit of formal studies and to use her knowledge to help others. Her radio audience was her on-air church family, and leading that family was as much a ministry for her as building the membership of her church, New Refuge Deliverance Cathedral. She managed to build both, simultaneously, and was known to say, “If the drug dealers can put drugs or a gun in the hands of the young people, I can surely put a Bible in their hands.”

Archbishop DuRant’s sunset was June 5, and even the COVID-19 restrictions loosened their grip to allow for a glorious celebration of her life. With two viewings, a wake and the service held in the church’s thoroughly sanitized sanctuary, while practicing social distancing at 50% capacity, she was uplifted in grand fashion. The first viewing was held on her birthday (June 23), and the service, filled with testimonials from clergy, followers and admirers from many walks of life, was one befitting her elevated stature; respected place in the community and loving maternal presence. 

The archbishop’s daughters, Lay Pastor Earline Meredith and Deacon Victoria Taylor; cousin, Deacon Christine Barbour; and Archdeacon Carolyn Marshall, all agree that much of her happiness came from, “Spreading the Word of God, winning souls to Christ. Seeing people leave the ranks of the devil and switching sides” and “the Holy Ghost at work in the church and in the people of God.”

“She was a wonderful mother and family person, and had so many godchildren and other people that laid claim to her as their mother also.”

“She enjoyed watching TV movies and shows like Survivor Series, 90 Day Fiancé, Bobby Flay, and Madea, and traveling and shopping on QVC and HSN for her stylish clothes and shoes. She just loved life.”

Longtime family friend and local mortician Carlton C. Douglass, who knew DuRant for more than 45 years, recalls a friendship that dates back to her time of “doing gospel in the morning,” and fellowshipping with her before then, when her church was located at Pratt and Broadway. Douglass, who handled the final arrangements for DuRant’s grandmother, the late Bishop Irene Montgomery; husband, the late Deacon Albert DuRant; mother, the late Mother Ruth Martin; father, the late Bishop Clem Williamson; and other relatives, is embraced by her daughters and family as “the family funeral director.” He speaks of her fondly as “a fantastic individual with a unique spirit who he never saw get upset over anything.”

“She was a preaching machine and could deliver a sermon like no one that I’ve heard. She had her own unique way. She believed in spirit-filled worship, and she was a kind and loving individual.” Douglass said. 

“She dressed according to the style of the times. Her hair, her clothing, her shoes were always fashionably in style. I would describe her as a ‘hip’ woman pastor.”

Douglass remembered his friend as a “trailblazer for women in religion and was elevated to Bishop long before any other woman that I can recall. She studied [in London and made a pilgrimage to Rome] and knew exactly how to be the rector of her denomination.”

Archbishop DuRant was a holy woman, but she was not holier than thou. Those who loved her describe her as “unselfish, extremely kind and generous, giving of her time, talents, and finances, and who cared for people spiritually and personally.”

She firmly believed that everyone deserved redemption and was known to say, “God can use anyone, at any age, at any time and anywhere. Maybe not in your current state, but after God saves you and cleans you up, make yourself available to God.”