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It Takes a Village

New Shiloh Baptist Church Embarks on Ambitious Community-Development Project

By Afefe Tyehimba | Posted 10/30/2002

Earlier this month, the clergy and thousands of members of the New Shiloh Baptist Church celebrated the church's 100-year anniversary--a milestone that finds the 6,000-member West Baltimore congregation among the city's largest and most historic. That staying power, church leaders say, has fueled their desire to create a New Shiloh "Village," which will include a senior-housing complex, a vocational training center, and a restaurant. The church hopes to revamp about 10 acres in its southern Mondawmin neighborhood, which is expected to take five years and cost an estimated $50 million. Church leaders say they hope the project will deter blight and create an estimated 100 jobs in the area.

\The scope of the effort is unusual: It goes beyond more conventional attempts to create church-based community facilities that offer services such as job training and child care. Michael Barland, executive director of the New Shiloh Community Development Corp., says that while the project's size and price tag appear daunting, "the key to funding is blending [sources of money] and leveraging. Many faith-based institutions rely almost entirely on city grants," which can make church leaders feel "hostage to the politics." New Shiloh leaders have instead spent $12 million of the church's own money so far to buy and renovate more than eight acres in the area, including the church building it built there in the early '90s (a site that was well known as the site of Cloverland Farms dairy during Baltimore's industrial heyday in the mid-20th century).

Though work on the village won't start until December, New Shiloh's development effort began taking shape in the mid-1990s. Right now, its 80,000-square-foot main building includes a 2,500-seat sanctuary, offices, banquet facilities, and classrooms for nondegree music and seminary schools. Three adjacent buildings house a child-care center and provide office space to nonprofit organizations such as Head Start and the Family Tree.

The church's commitment and independent approach to the project helped it obtain much-needed outside financing for ongoing development, Barland says. In the past year, New Shiloh has been awarded a $500,000 federal housing grant and a $1 million state bond, and has taken out a $2.5 million bank loan--and that's just for starters.

"We showed that we've done our homework and know what type of tenants we'll bring to the table--not Joe Blow, but tenants who can pay the lease and will be here five years from now," Barland says.

After traveling to New York this summer with other members of New Shiloh's board of directors--where they visited the Rev. Floyd Flake's Greater Allen Cathedral, another church-based "village" that oversees 10 nonprofit organizations and includes a bank--Barland entered talks with Harlem-based Sylvia's Restaurant. He hopes the soul-food restaurant will open a franchise on the church's Baltimore property.

"Next year this time," he says, pointing to blueprints for a glass-roofed restaurant, "we hope to have people sitting in the restaurant eating catfish."

Ambitious projects like New Shiloh Village aren't new to Baltimore, says Becky Sherblom, executive director of the nonprofit Maryland Center for Community Development, an organization that offers financial-literacy training to young nonprofits and lobbies for affordable-housing issues. "There is a very rich tradition here of [religious groups] addressing community needs," she says. For examples, she cites the commercial- and residential-development efforts undertaken by Catholic Charities and the interfaith coalition Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.

Sherblom says New Shiloh has distinguished itself through a close "community connection--lots of walking the streets and making sure [its] agenda is what the community needs."

When he took over as pastor of New Shiloh 37 years ago--back when the church was still located at Lanvale and Fremont streets--the Rev. Harold Carter Sr. (who now co-pastors the church with his son, the Rev. Harold Carter Jr.) wanted to develop a ministry that would "provide the patience and staying power to see change." That meant brokering $10 million in mortgage loans in 1990 to buy the North Monroe property where the church is now located. A burning ceremony for that mortgage was held in June.

Carter, a native of Selma, Ala., who has held crusades alongside such religious leaders as Billy Graham and Jesse Jackson, espouses the philosophy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when describing New Shiloh's past and future growth as a community entity.

"I learned from him that we have to take responsibility for our condition, whatever that might be," Carter says. "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."

That philosophy helped New Shiloh attract congregants, who contributed toward the church's $3 million in revenue in 2001. The self-help approach has helped the church to "almost magically transform" many a former drug addict, ex-felon, and homeless person, he adds. "Saving of souls is paramount," Carter says.

Carter is passionate when asked about the millions invested in the New Shiloh Village. "This is where the people are, and this is where the need is," he says. "The wave of Maryland's future development--and the nation's--lies in the [inner] city."

David Chestnut, executive director for the Southern Mondawmin Improvement Association, which has worked closely with New Shiloh in laying the groundwork for its village, echoes Carter's sentiments. "New Shiloh has always been a partner of the community," he says. "While the church may not physically provide some services [like job training], they give us the opportunity to extend those services with facilities--and that's a plus."

During his seven years as a neighborhood resident, Chestnut says, New Shiloh's presence has transformed what used to be an industrial wasteland into "a mixed-used area that's aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I mean, I remember a resident telling me that even when times get rough in the community, she can always look outside her window and see [New Shiloh's] lighted cross--and that sings volumes of what we're talking about here."

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