There was no way Frank M. Reid III was going to be a preacher.
His daddy was a preacher. So was his granddaddy, his great-granddaddy and his great-great granddaddy before him. For generations, the Reid men were preachers, and everyone expected Frank would follow suit.
He had other plans.
It was 1969. Race riots and the slaying of Martin Luther King had rocked the nation. Predominantly white colleges were seeking black students, and Frank was wooed by the best. Harvard came courting, but he chose Yale and, a year later, his plans had taken shape. He would make contacts. He would study law. He would land on Wall Street.
But something happened.
It was the summer after his sophomore year. Frank was visiting a girlfriend in Cambridge, Mass. She was sitting on his lap and they were listening to music. Curtis Mayfield wafted through the air, crooning a funky version of the Carpenters' hit song "We've Only Just Begun."
Suddenly, something stirred Frank. His heart filled with the force of God's love. His soul shook with the reality of Jesus' saving grace. He wanted to, he needed to share the message. He rose, strode around the room, and preached as if his life depended on it.
No sooner did he realize what he'd done than he --ed to the telephone. He called his daddy with the news: He wanted to be a preacher, too.
Today, 20 years later, Frank Madison Reid III, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, is one of the nation's hottest soul-winners.
Burly, bearded and broad-shouldered, Mr. Reid looks more like an overgrown graduate student than the scion of an A.M.E. dynasty. He has a student's curiosity, too. Haunting bookstores in his spare moments, he is happiest with a stack of reading materials piled under his arm.
Reading books, which Mr. Reid does zealously, is part of his pursuit of excellence. Whether it's a brown belt in martial arts, a wardrobe of well-cut clothes, or a calendar-full of high-power preaching engagements -- what Frank Reid does, he does well.
But his greatest triumph is his ministry.
The street-smart, school-savvy graduate of Yale University and Harvard Divinity School has fashioned a ministry of the heart with a mission to humanity. He has opened resistant middle-class churches to alcoholics, addicts and prisoners. He has called on the black community to become economically responsible and has begun programs to bolster black men's self-esteem. He has cultivated an image of strong but sensitive manhood -- hip to M. C. Hammer and Motown but humble before the saving power of the Lord.
Mingling evangelical belief, social service, Afrocentrism, and spirit-filled inspiration, Mr. Reid created a pastiche of elements not commonly found together.
But the mix works.
That mix is at work during three services at Bethel every Sunday and twice weekly during Bible studies in the Bethel sanctuary.
During one Wednesday noon gathering, Mr. Reid launches into a discussion of spiritual balance.
"If you just deal with people on a spiritual level, then you cop out on their material needs," he explains, pacing up and down the aisle that separates the altar from the pews. "Jesus was not only concerned with people's spiritual needs, he cared about their physical needs -- that's why he healed them and fed them."
Printing on a blackboard, Mr. Reid lists how the church gets out of balance.
"Some people would rather shout than serve, preach not practice," he says, pitching his low baritone to a sing-song growl. Some want evangelism without empowerment or the pastoral without the prophetic.
"Well, church, listen up. One reason the life expectancy rate of African Americans has decreased is a pastoral problem -- cancer, high blood pressure, disease. But we also live in the midst of political and social struggles that cause stress, addiction and which prevent us from going to doctors when we need to. So there's a prophetic side that needs to be addressed, which means calling for national health insurance."
Mr. Reid sees the congregation bobbing their heads, following him all the way.
"Now turn to your neighbor and say, 'Amen,' " he says. "Amen!"
THE DESIRE FOR A RELAtionship with God -- or one of his preachers -- is not a driving passion for many inner-city kids today. Ice T or Michael Jordan: Those are heroes who deserve a hearing. But the church seems sissified -- havens for the weak led by the meek. Mr. Reid doesn't believe it has to be that way. He believes the church can offer tough love, too.
Mr. Reid's theories were put to the test in 1980. He was 29, fresh off his first church in Charlotte, N.C., when he was asked to come to Los Angeles' Ward A.M.E., a faltering black church in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. Ward was a challenge -- a chance to see whether his vision of the ministry worked.
At the heart of that ministry was outreach to black men. Sociologists were beginning to wonder why more black males were in jail than in college. Black leaders asked if there was a plot to decimate their numbers through drugs, AIDS and jail. Mr. Reid, along with a handful of black ministers nationwide, said the problem would be helped if black men could be persuaded to return to church.
To bring them back, Mr. Reid needed to be a role model. Embodying what he felt was both undeniably black and authentically Christian, he showed the strong and sensitive sides of his nature. Friends were struck by the contradictions. He spoke the language of the streets, but he had an Ivy League
education. He read voraciously, but enjoyed an action-packed movie. He could express his anger, but he also could show his love.
He spoke openly of the strength he drew from his wife, the former Marlaa Hall. When their daughter Franshon was born in 1987, he went straight from the hospital to kneel before the church's altar. But Mr. Reid's pronouncements on love went even further than just the family. He stressed the importance of men showing love for one another. He preached "agape," the kind of love that allows brothers to embrace and to put another's needs before one's own.
That's the kind of love Mr. Reid showed for Ron Wright.
Mr. Wright was a junkie and a jailbird when his wife joined the church. When he was released from jail, he came to services. "I got there on March 25, 1984, and the sermon he preached, 'Put the Devil in His Place,' I thought he was talking to me," says Mr. Wright, who at the time was due for a second sentencing for drug possession. "He was talking about strength. Not a little, weak-kneed Jesus, but a God who cares about oppressed people and people who are down and out.
Mr. Reid cut short a vacation to attend Mr. Wright's sentencing hearing. When Mr. Wright was asked if he had anything to say, he burst forth with a heart-felt appeal describing his dedication to Jesus and his desire to make amends. When he finished, the judge quipped he was ready to pass the plate. Then, he suspended Mr. Wright's sentence.
Downstairs, Mr. Reid pulled Mr. Wright aside.
"He said, 'Ron, you touched that judge's heart, but now you got to do what you said you were going to do because if you don't the judge will never believe anyone who said they were changed by the Lord,' " recalls Mr. Wright, now a minister at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Santa Barbara. "Then he gave me $50 and told my wife and me to go out for lunch and celebrate."
In following months, Mr. Reid stuck close to his new protege. He kept telling Mr. Wright he was special, he recognized him at services and he supported him when he proposed a new ministry for addicts and alcoholics.
"Frank kept pushing me to get the meeting going. He gave me support and a budget and he paid for me to go to UCLA, where I got certification in drug and alcohol counseling," Mr. Wright says. "I remember one time the Rev. John Bryant came and asked addicts who I brought to the church and were now free of !B addiction to stand. A lot of people stood, and then he asked them to come down and touch the altar.
"A lot of upstanding people complained to Frank about that. The following Sunday, Frank had the addicts do the exact same thing and he said, 'I wish I had more addicts, I wish I had more ex-cons. Because those are the people who can testify God is real and who know God forgives.' "
At the heart of Mr. Reid's success was his preaching. Ward's worship services were expressive and praise-filled; Mr. Reid easily mixed "black talk" with standard English. References to hip-hop and the Temptations tripped off his tongue as easily as teachings about St. Augustine.
Mr. Reid also developed a reputation as a community leader. He stayed in close contact with Mayor Tom Bradley. He worked as a consultant for the television series "Amen." He served as a Democratic delegate in Jesse Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns.
Mr. Reid took bold stands. He not only spoke out on issues; he also took action. When the city's homeless were hit by a cold wave, he opened the church to them. When the need to provide homes for black babies became critical, he began programs encouraging black families to adopt.
Most important, Mr. Reid put people in touch with each other. When he invited Louis Farrakhan to Ward, blacks who had been turned off to Christianity came to hear the fiery Muslim leader. Some, like Ron Wright's wife, stayed. Mr. Reid also asked Hispanic leaders and white clergyman to talk to his congregation. He was a firm proponent of racial pride, but he also understood the importance of brotherhood.
At Ward, Mr. Reid built a mega-church based on black activism, neo-Pentecostalism, and traditional family values. During his eight-year tenure, Ward grew from 1,500 to 5,000 members. The budget shot up from $150,000 to $800,000. He was just getting comfortable with the success when a new call came.
This call, from Bethel A.M.E. in Baltimore, had deep reverberations. Bethel was not only one of the oldest and largest churches in the denomination, but it was also the pulpit where his father, Bishop Frank M. Reid II, and his spiritual mentor, Bishop John Bryant, had served. Baltimore had been his father's home for more than a decade, and it was home to his
stepbrother, Kurt Schmoke -- the city's first elected black mayor.
HISTORICALLY, THE black church has been the most important institution in the black community, serving as a hub for social, political and cultural life. From its beginnings, as slaves were gradually allowed to practice Christianity, the black church became a multifaceted tool for survival. It soothed and it inspired. It promised eternal reward and timely liberation. It was a locus for political rebellion and personal affirmation.
Not surprisingly, the modern civil rights movement grew out of the church. Ministers, taking literally the gospel call for freedom, rallied ordinary parishioners to extraordinary acts of heroism. In the first flush of equality, clergy were obvious candidates for secular leadership. Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson -- all were ministers who saw the unredeemed world as a fit sphere for service.
But in recent years, a new class of black leaders arose. Secular men and women, they came up through the unions, the courts, and even the political clubhouses. These leaders still acknowledge the importance of the black church as a voting bloc but they are not beholden to it. Moreover, their very success undercuts the church's role as a grooming ground for the community elite.
Even as the black church has been undercut by the social successes it strove for, its strength has also been diminished by secularism. The breakdown of the black family, the pervasiveness of the media, and the glamorization of athletics and entertainment have all conspired to make the church and its message seem pallid. Moreover, many black denominations -- whose congregants are predominantly working and middle class have chosen to leave the most depressed areas of the inner city or, if they stay, to gingerly sidestep the folk who live there.
Today's black middle class may be larger and more successful than ever before, but the problems of the poor seem more entrenched. It is these problems -- chronic poverty, teen-age pregnancy, drugs, unemployment, illiteracy -- that Mr. Reid seeks to address. He fights on several fronts: offering social services that government agencies don't provide, empowering neighborhood people to demand their rights, inspiring comfortable church members to feel responsible to the entire black community.
Mr. Reid traces the community's turn for the worse to the insidious effects of integration.
"Integration took the best African American minds outside the African American community," he says. "Once, on Druid Hill Avenue and McCulloh Street, doctors and lawyers lived across the street from working-class African Americans and served as role models.
"But when integration came, the class issue stepped in and well-to-do African Americans moved out. Now, the best-known streets of African American capitalism -- 125th Street in New York, Main Street in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore -- are all depressed."
For Mr. Reid, once the middle and upper classes left, the dissolution of social structures followed. Businesses collapsed, schools failed, families fell apart. A generation of young people stopped attending church. Values were formed by the media. Recurring images taught that having things is good, having expensive things is better and having lots of money is best. Given this consumerism, it was easy for pushers -- whose financial incentives were much greater than what entry-level service jobs offered -- to gain a foothold.
"We are in the time of a new generation -- a generation not raised in the church and who doesn't know the symbolism or the mission of the African American church," he says. "The only way the pastor can be a role model is to understand the culture young people face on a daily basis."
FRANK MADISON REID III was born to a family where the role of the minister was not taken lightly. Frank's grandfather, an A.M.E. bishop in South Carolina in the 1950s, supported the churchgoers who enlisted Thurgood Marshall's help to desegregate the public school system. Frank's father, who was also elected bishop (he served in Liberia and Alabama), accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. on the last 50 miles of the march on Montgomery.
Frank's early years were standard 1950s fare. He wore Davy Crockett buckskins, read Golden Books and romped with his playmates. In 1956, the elder Mr. Reid moved the family to St. Louis, where he pastored a church in a predominantly black neighborhood. Five years later -- and after the birth of three daughters -- Adrenis and Frank Reid agreed to disagree. Mr. Reid stayed in the parsonage while Mrs. Reid and the children moved to a predominantly white, working-class neighborhood in the city's North Side.
The Reids were among the first blacks in the area. But the neighborhood quickly changed racial balance. School was tough. Not only were the Reid children taunted by whites, but Frank also remembers fighting off other blacks who taunted them because they were light-skinned.
Frank describes his parents' values as middle class. Mrs. Reid gave the children chores around the house. She monitored their grades and disciplined them when they backslid. When Frank finished high school in 1969, his father urged him to attend Howard University. The predominantly black school in Washington was near Baltimore, where his father had moved five years earlier as pastor of Bethel A.M.E. At Bethel, the elder Mr. Reid met Irene Schmoke, whom he married in 1968. Mrs. Schmoke's son Kurt, two years Frank's senior, was a Yale student. Early in their acquaintance, Kurt gave Frank his copy of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" -- a book that became an inspiration for the younger man.
That summer in Baltimore, Frank decided he would go to Yale, too.
He soon established himself as a well-known figure on campus. A tall, solidly built man with a hipster's goatee, Frank commanded respect. Much to his daddy's dismay, he grew his hair long and fraternized almost solely with black students. As head of the Black Student Association, he squared off frequently with Kingman Brewster -- the Yale president whose open-door policy gave Yale one of the more progressive reputations in the Ivy League.
Unlike his stepbrother Kurt, whose Yale friends spanned the football team to the Black Student Association, Frank's circle was drawn from Afro House -- a center of black students.
"He was a campus activist, and he could have been a great politician," says Mayor Schmoke, who remembers discussing career options, especially the law, with Frank. "But the church was in his blood."
At the end of his junior year, Frank was tapped by Wolf's Head, a secret society to which Kurt had also belonged. Wolf's Head was a predominantly white, upper-crust group, but there was a push for black members. Frank was honored to be asked. He was surprised to find how similar the world of his white colleagues was to his own.
"It allowed me to see you could be rich and still have problems -- money didn't exempt you from pain," he says. "That saved me from a narrow, nationalistic mentality. I learned you make a serious mistake when you judge people by how they look, what they wear, and who their parents were.
"You have to find out who they really are."
FRANK WAS STILL SEARCHING for who he was when he met the Rev. John Bryant, pastor of St. Paul's A.M.E. in Cambridge, Mass. Frank was graduating from Yale and set to go to divinity school there, but he was wracked by questions. Was Christianity relevant to blacks? What about the black nationalist message? Wasn't there more to church than moving up the ranks and politicking for bishop?
St. Paul's was an unabashedly black church. The black liberation flag flew in the sanctuary and black religious art hung on the walls. The services -- which departed from the traditional A.M.E. norm of "order and decorum" (Frank's father never spoke more )) than 12 1/2 minutes and always had the congregation out in time for the Colts game) -- were lively, foot-stomping, gospel-singing, two- and three-hour-long marathons.
Mr. Bryant was a new force in the A.M.E. The denomination, the first black church in the United States, was organized in 1816. From the beginning, church leaders were intent on providing social services and education, as well as spiritual sustenance, to their flock. Worship in the young denomination was dynamic: The exuberance of the revival-era white Methodists made a heady mix with African religious tradition. But by the mid-19th century, A.M.E. preachers wanted to switch, as their white colleagues had already done, to a more dignified style.
When Mr. Bryant introduced the fervor-filled service, he insisted he was reclaiming the emotional heart of the denomination. At the same time, he fashioned a style of ministry that he felt was true to the African-American experience. Treating the sacred and the secular as one, he called on churchgoers to be active in the world -- running soup kitchens, vying for political office, starting schools. Unlike most neo-Pentecostalists whose social outlook runs from disinterested to reactionary, Mr. Bryant saw spirit-filled worship working in tandem with a progressive political worldview.
St. Paul's quickly became a hub for young black professionals hungry for sense and sensibility -- a sense of black pride with the sensibility of spirit-filled worship.
Frank was hooked.
He started Harvard Divinity School in fall 1974 and worked
part-time at St. Paul's. But the following spring his father was elected bishop of Liberia and John Bryant was called to replace him at Bethel. Frank took a year off school to work with his father in Africa, where mingling lessons from the senior Reid, Mr. Bryant and his own experiences at Yale, the seeds of his ministry were sown.
WHEN THE REV. JOHN BRYANT was elected bishop in 1988, no one knew who dared follow him at Bethel. In 13 years, Mr. Bryant had taken the church from an all-time low of 600 members to a record high of 7,000. He had set up community outreach programs, started a church school, and begun a ministerial training program. Other clergy may have called the charismatic preacher "Prince Charming" behind his back, but no one could make light of his success.
Mr. Reid seemed a likely choice. He was a proven soul-winner in Charlotte and Los Angeles. He could preach, teach, lead and administer. But would he want to leave a pulpit that was indelibly his to make his mark in a church already stamped by his two mentors?
Leronia Josey, a church member who Mr. Reid retained as Bethel's attorney, says no one knew what to expect when Frank was called.
"Bryant is a builder. He inspired people to be creative and to start programs," says Ms. Josey, who assists Mr. Reid on contracts, personnel matters, real estate and outreach. "Reid said, 'I am not going to stop anything, but let's look on what we are doing, how we are doing it and if we do it excellently.'
"Reid wants to know every step of what you are doing. He is concerned with process as well as bottom line. When I first
started working with him, I said, 'You ask as many questions as a lawyer. He told me he had wanted to be a lawyer.' "
Like a lawyer, Mr. Reid can be cautious. He has been slow to establish himself as a local player on the political scene -- held back, friends say, by his desire to solidify his position at Bethel and to move carefully in a town where his stepbrother is king.
"He came in and wanted people to know he was there to be the pastor -- first and foremost," says Mr. Schmoke. "He may get more involved politically. But I think he has been very deliberate. He said something to me about telling the congregation he wasn't there because his stepbrother was the mayor, but because he was the best pastor for the church."
Mr. Reid has been focused on the church and its ministries to the exclusion of everything else. He has chosen not to participate in BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), a church-based community organization -- saying he does not agree with their non-hierarchal philosophy -- or in the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. Some black ministers wish he would change his mind.
"I am praying for Frank to be more like his father," says the Rev. Wendell Phillips, pastor of Heritage United Church of Christ in Baltimore. Mr. Phillips explains that Bishop Reid worked collegially with other black ministers.
"I really don't know what Frank is doing," says the Rev. Marion Bascomb, pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore. "I hear he's doing well and I certainly applaud him.
"But I don't think I have laid eyes on him more than six times since he's come to town."
Mr. Reid says he doesn't want to be part of the club. Bethel is so large and its social service ministry so comprehensive (its Community Outreach Center served 25,000 people last year, offering food, services, teen pregnancy programs, and a women's center) that Mr. Reid feels he doesn't need to work with anybody else. Moreover, his television ministry (he is on cable Channel 12 and Channel 54) has gained him an enthusiastic audience among shut-ins and prisoners.
Mr. Reid's dynamism, which comes across on camera, lies in his an ability to involve his audience. He breaks down isolation and passivity. When he wants to underscore a point, he tells listeners, "Turn to the person next to you and say, 'That's deep.' " If he wants to reinforce a message, he'll say, "Turn to the person behind you and tell him, 'God loves you.' "
Early in a service, Mr. Reid initiates physical contact, asking worshipers to hug, greet or lay hands on one another. As the liturgy continues, he directs congregants to break into prayer circles, instructing each person in the group to share their prayer.
But the bedrock of Bethel's 2 1/2 -hour service is Mr. Reid's preaching. He starts slow, offers personal stories (tales of parents, student days, his daughter Franshon), slides in references from rap to romance before listeners realize he has circled his point and is ready to pounce. This past year, he has preached on the many manifestations of love. During a sermon about joy, he drew a packed church to its feet roaring with gratitude for God's many gifts.
Two years ago, Goldie Phillips went to hear Mr. Reid during a revival. He had heard about the powerful preacher and wanted )) to see him.
"He gave a message similar to what Dr. King would have said. And he delivered it with the force and determination of Malcolm X. But he had a style which was distinctly his own," says Mr. Phillips, a Baltimore police sergeant. "I attended his church the following Sunday and he did it again."
Mr. Phillips is also impressed with the way Mr. Reid handles himself.
"We were walking down Lanvale Street and we observed some young men using profanity, acting disrespectfully to church members and causing problems," Mr. Phillips says. "Frank walked over to the young men and asked them how they were doing and what they did during the day and whether they had jobs.
"He talked to them about their image and why they shouldn't use language like that, and he offered the services of the church. Then he took one young man, who was particularly vulgar, and steered him away from the crowd. I believe that young man respected him because he saw a strong man who looked good and who didn't hide the fact he was a preacher."
Mr. Reid's outreach to men is his greatest point of departure from Mr. Bryant. Men are a priority at the church. He introduces them at services (male attendance has increased from about 25 percent to nearly half of worshipers), he is organizing a Men's Center, a Men's Bible Studies and a Manhood Rites of Initiation group for young males to learn more about responsibility.
Mr. Reid says men want a real man. Real men take responsibility for their actions. That's why Mr. Reid speaks openly about his son, Shane Williams.
On Christmas, Mr. Reid introduced the congregation to the 11-year old boy, who lives with his mother in Seattle.
"I take no pride out of the fact I had a child out of wedlock. It's very painful and it's wrong according to the word of God," says Mr. Reid. "But it's also something I don't deny.
"After I shared it at both churches [Ward and Bethel], I received many letters from men and women whose father never recognized them. They said they had vicarious joy seeing me -- who had every reason not to share the information -- do so."
FRANK REID CALLS THE women he knows "sisters" and the men "brothers." It is a shorthand way of saying we live in a world where God rules. A God discovered in the ecstasy of the spirit and worshiped through the struggle for liberation. A God who loves all people, who demands the pursuit of excellence and the demonstration of love.
"The older I become the more I realize if you can lead people to a personal relationship with the Lord then whatever issues they face, they can work out," says Mr. Reid. "Sometimes we force issues on people in the church and they get burnt out or they jump from issue to issue or they become such social activists they have no room for spiritual development.
"In the African American community the issues are so pressing we have to take positions because it's a matter of survival. But sometimes you do so at a danger to your people. You need to keep a balance between the need for spiritual growth and the need to serve."
DIANE WINSTON reports for the metro desk of The Sun.