Pastor set to tackle issues

In the hectic days before being installed as leader of a major urban church, many pastors would be crafting sermons, neatly pressing suits and robes, or ironing out last-minute details.

The Rev. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, due to be installed Sunday as pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in West Baltimore, has been doing what he does best: tackling tough issues.


At Warnock's insistence, the 700-member church plans to open a weekend of installation events with discussion of what he sees as one of the churches' albatrosses: HIV and AIDS. Today, at an early morning news conference at the church, Warnock plans to challenge Baltimore clergy to urge their congregations to get tested for the virus -- and to get tested themselves.

Then, he'll participate in a daylong symposium: "The Black Church's Response to the HIV/AIDS Epidemic."


"Everything I do is theologically and biblically informed," Warnock said this week from his study. "The Old Testament prophet Hosea said, 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.' I am saying that that is literally the case with regard to HIV/AIDS. People do not know what they need to know about the virus itself, and they do not know their HIV status. If the clergy went to get tested en masse, we could create a climate where you remove the stigma."

At 32, Warnock is young to lead one of the city's largest churches. But he comes from spiritual stock.

He was born in Savannah, Ga., the 11th of 12 children born to two Pentecostal-Holiness ministers. He came to Douglas Memorial early this year from the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York, where he had been youth pastor for six years and assistant pastor for four years.

The Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of Abyssinian, said he wasn't surprised Warnock was hired.

"He's one of the brightest and most intelligent and academically prepared young clergymen in the country," Butts said. "He got along excellently with the church members of all ages. He's a forceful leader, very serious about the issues that impact especially the African-American community. He's one of the more thoughtful preachers of his generation."

Warnock replaces the Rev. Brad R. Braxton, who left after five years in July of last year to teach at Wake Forest University, making him the fourth pastor in Douglas Memorial's 76-year history.

He was selected after a national search, said Marco K. Merrick, director of the church's gospel choir and a search-committee member.

"Our goal was to bring the best candidate to the congregation based on what we believe, based on what the congregation imparted to us in a survey," Merrick said. "Reverend Warnock excelled in every category. What he imparted with us was very memorable, very indelible."


As part of the installation celebrations, Warnock and other Douglas Memorial members will attend a pastoral installation banquet at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel. Actor Ossie Davis will be speaker.

Warnock earned a degree in psychology from Morehouse College in 1991, a master's degree in divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1994, and a master's degree in systematic theology from Union last year.

Warnock said he sees issues in Baltimore that he wants to address -- including urban blight and high rates of sexually transmitted diseases and drug addiction.

As part of his vision for Douglas, Warnock wants to attract support from corporations and foundations to expand Camp Farthest Out, a 50-acre facility in Carroll County that provides a residential camp experience for disadvantaged children.

Warnock also said he hopes to expand Douglas' community outreach.

"I think you will see over the next few years a Douglas Church that is very much engaged in the social and political life of the Baltimore community," he said. "Whether the issue is HIV/AIDS or the education of our children, we will bring the moral authority of the faith community to bear in the critical discourse that takes place in the public square."