The Rev. Herbert D. Valentine, an outspoken advocate of social justice and a liberal voice in church affairs who has led Baltimore's Presbyterians for nearly a quarter-century, has announced he will retire in July.
In 1977, Valentine became executive presbyter of the 21,000-member Baltimore Presbytery, which encompasses 72 churches in Central and Western Maryland. In 1991, he served a one-year term as moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
"I'm going to take a little breathing time, a little mental health break," said Valentine, 65. "I'll probably be doing some traveling, some sailing, some camping. And then in January, I will start thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life."
"Herb Valentine has been a very strong and progressive leader for the presbytery," said the Rev. John R. Sharp, pastor of Govans Presbyterian Church. "He's enabled Baltimore Presbytery to be one of the strongest presbyteries in the denomination. He's also a leader on many issues across the country.
"He came to a presbytery that had been in decline and and he put it on a strong financial footing," Sharp said. "He launched a program of starting 10 new churches in the next decade that will continue even after his retirement."
Valentine, whose parents were born in Scotland, was educated in Oakland, Calif., public schools. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of California at Berkeley in 1957 and graduated three years later from San Francisco Theological Seminary. He earned a doctorate in 1974 from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
He served as a pastor in San Francisco, Indianapolis and Gary, Ind. In Indianapolis, he helped to start a law firm that successfully sued to improve the circumstances of welfare recipients and inmates in the local jail. "I've had a cross burned on my lawn in Indianapolis, I've had my life threatened, my property vandalized," he said.
Valentine said he is proud that, under his leadership, the number of women pastors in the Baltimore Presbytery has increased from one to 23. He has been a strong supporter of ministry to the poor, such as the family shelter the presbytery opened at the YWCA on Franklin Street in Baltimore, and the soup kitchen that was started at Light Street Presbyterian Church in Federal Hill.
He also helped to establish a partnership with the presbytery in Guatemala. "We've established a medical clinic and we've started some co-op pig farms, built some school buildings, put in wells," he said.
'Values straightened out'
But the relationship is not one-way, Valentine said. The Americans going to Guatemala also benefit from the exchange by learning "what it means to live in a Third World culture."
"It's really not so much us doing for them as what they do for the people going down there," he said. "It helps [the Americans] get their values straightened out."
In 1994, Valentine joined other national religious leaders to create the Interfaith Alliance, which promotes itself as a moderate voice to counteract the religious right. Valentine served as its first president and is now the organization's secretary-treasurer.
"It needed to be founded, because the Christian religious right was acting as if it had sole possession of the moral compass of this country," he said. "They were defining what Christianity was in a very narrow way."
What has touched him most in his career, Valentine said, have been "the many voices I've heard over the years that speak to me from different parts -- not brilliant in their words or profound, but for who they were as persons."
"Now and then having experienced those kinds of things -- that's a rare privilege."