When he has a spare minute he reads MacLean magazine. When he needs to hear good preaching he leans toward “country” preachers who have a certain bent toward the basics, what he calls “raw religion.” And every chance he gets he enjoys a hearty laugh from a good joke and he doesn’t think people know that about him.
These are just a few of the distinctive marks that compose the imprint of the Rev. Dr. Harold A. Carter Sr. who, with a 45-year tenure as the fourth pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church, has out served his predecessors of whom he was in awe with at the beginning. What once seemed to be an eternity, he now characterizes as “seeming to be only a moment.”
What everyone surely knows about him? He is, heart and soul, passionate for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the work it accomplishes in birthing souls into the kingdom.
“It’s what still excites me about ministry – the people,” Rev. Carter said. “It energizes me to see them have their lives turned around and to see them become engaged in ministry work.”
No surprise to anyone who’s heard him preach with his own “down home” cadence, the occasional riff that reveals the tenor voice that could have taken him other places, and the tears that flow as he recounts the salvation story one more time.
One can only imagine the void that would have been created in the faith community had the young Mr. Carter not encountered the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was choosing between the many careers his sound education and upbringing could have afforded him.
It was Dr. King who convinced him to answer the call that had reverberated in his heart with no hint of diminishing. It was Dr. King who told him that nothing else would bring him the fulfillment of doing what he’d been created to do. And what would New Shiloh have done without this son of teachers who was summoned from Selma, Ala., to serve for what would add up to at least 45 years?
As much as he is excited by people, he is dismayed at the dearth of energy in the young people who come now to the church, not seeking salvation, holiness, liberation, family development or inspiration for a better life, but looking for a “packaged ministry that will suit their needs or give them comfort.”
“Today, it’s whether or not they like it and if not they’ll find another place. Unfortunately, the vision of the church has been ‘dumbed down’ so much that people are not really sure what the church stands for,” Rev. Carter said. “Sometimes the leaders don’t even know. You have to be skilled in marketing as well as evangelism.”
He said the conversation has to be about what the church has to offer. “We have a school of music; we have this or that for the young people,” he said. “It has nothing to do with their primary need for God.”
As much as culture was his friend when he began ministry, it now operates as a formidable foe. “Even now you can hardly hear a sermon that doesn’t make reference to what a grandmother or grandfather of faith might have said. I started out with the advantage of that culture and preached to people who’d had that advantage also,” Rev. Carter said. “There was a time when everyone had at least a passing acquaintance with songs out of our Blackness, but there’s not that common language anymore. Today, in many respects, culture is a repressive weight.”
He also addressed the uphill battle to engage those who’ve somehow gotten caught in the “prison outside the normal culture.”
“It takes a lot to bring them to the realization that we’ve all come from the same place and our aim is to assist in whatever ways we can. But you can’t force it.”
Rev. Carter’s father, the Rev. Dr. Nathan Mitchell Carter Sr., taught preachers for 55 years at Selma University, and would undoubtedly be proud of his son’s pastorate at New Shiloh. “Oh my God, he’d be so proud.” But what would the senior Carter think about the Black church today? “He’d be troubled by the numbers of sinners to whom no one is witnessing, troubled by the loss of sanctity of the Sabbath Day and certainly he’d be dismayed by the loss of consecration.”
If there were just one thing Rev. Carter could do to change the direction of the church, speaking universally, it would be to institute a return to biblical standards of knowing the life of Christ. “Gathering young people in particular to grow up with a solid standard of Christianity.” Referencing recent studies concerning the decline of faith in young people, the pastor said they merely reflect what’s happening in the lives of their parents and teachers.
“But in the face of it all, I still have great faith in the renewal of the Christian faith. I don’t know how it’s going to break out, but it will.”
The anniversary celebration continues with a banquet, 6:30 p.m., May 28 in the church banquet hall with Juanita J. Abernathy as the keynote speaker, and a concert by the Choral Ministries of New Shiloh, 6 p.m., May 30. For more information, call the church at 410-523-5306 or visit newshilohbaptist.org.