This year, Dr. Harold A. Carter Sr. celebrates 45 years as the principal shepherd of Baltimore’s New Shiloh Baptist Church. In his own words, he is above all “a God man,” the primary trustee of his congregation’s spiritual life.
Yet, at a time when our urban areas are in danger of crumbling under the stress of decades of disinvestment, Dr. Carter and his New Shiloh Congregation also offer the people of Baltimore hope, as well as a concrete plan for faith-based engagement in the social and economic renewal of our region.
His is a vision and a mission — grounded in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s — that has compelling importance for our nation today.
More than a half-century ago, when Dr. Carter was a still a young man in Selma, Ala., Dr. Ralph Abernathy and then, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., both offered Harold Carter his first opportunities to speak to their congregations as a newly ordained minister.
“I was a young college student and they wanted to give me a boost from the beginning,” Dr. Carter observed in a 2005 article written in the Baltimore AFRO-American.
It was a strong, inspiring and enduring “boost” indeed.
This same visionary foundation has inspired Dr. Carter throughout his ministry — both in the mission to proclaim the gospel to which he had been called and in the “social gospel” work of his faith.
A past leader of Baltimore’s chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the local chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. Carter has readily acknowledged Dr. King’s influence upon his vision for community renewal as an integral element of his New Shiloh ministry.
“I learned from him that we have to take responsibility for our condition, whatever that might be,” Dr. Carter once observed. “People in power do not concede anything to others freely, so we have to equip ourselves and do for ourselves based on the principles of unconditional love.”
Aided by the strength and talents of his wonderful wife, the late Dr. Weptanomah Carter, his son and co-pastor, Dr. Harold A. Carter Jr., and a dedicated congregation that has grown to number in the thousands, New Shiloh is, indeed, equipping its community to move forward on empowering principles.
Every day, people from the neighborhood can find inspiration and opportunity in its beautiful church and Family Life Center, its school of music, theological center, child development center and other facilities.
These accomplishments of the congregation’s “social gospel” mission are important aspects of Dr. Carter’s vision but they are far from the end. Already underway are plans for technical training for the community, a computer center, a senior center and senior housing.
Consistent with our constitutional doctrine of the separation of church and state, it would be more appropriate for me to leave it to others to commend Dr. Carter for the other wonderful ministers whom he has trained, including my own pastor, Bishop Walter S. Thomas Sr.
Others are better qualified than I to attest to the lasting importance of Dr. Carter’s spiritual writings.
However, I have been honored to serve as a spokesman for the Congressional Black Caucus to our nation’s faith communities. In the performance of that duty, I have gained a thorough understanding of those “faith-based initiatives” that are working.
A part of what my teacher and friend, Dr. Harold A. Carter Sr., has taught me is that the inspiration for faith-based programs that work cannot be found in a strategy to transfer public responsibility for greater social equity to the faith centers of our country.
Rather, that motivating force must first arise from the hearts and minds of people of faith themselves.
This is one of the reasons that Dr. Harold A. Carter Sr., stands as an example for all of our citizenry – whatever our respective faith traditions may be.
It also is at the core of what Dr. Carter means when he speaks of how our local communities must undertake greater responsibility for themselves and their neighbors, and how they must equip themselves for opportunity.
Unlike other “mega-churches” that have left the inner cities of our nation, New Shiloh Baptist Church has followed Dr. Carter’s vision for his congregation.
It has constructed its foundation on an unwavering commitment to the people of our urban community.
As we in government seek to construct a new and more comprehensive “national urban policy,” we would do well to take note.
Dr. Carter and his congregation have invested millions of dollars in the New Shiloh Village and surrounding community.
“This is where the people are, and this is where the need is,” he has observed. “The wave of Maryland's future development – and the nation’s – lies in the [inner] cities.”
This month, I will stand on the floor of the United States House of Representatives and commend to our nation’s attention the vision, wisdom and mission of an inspired man.
During his decades of service, Dr. Harold A. Carter Sr., has earned our nation’s praise for a lasting legacy of principle and faith.
His is a vision that all Americans would do well to pay heed.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.