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David Pollitt, Light St. Presbyterian Church pastor, dies

David L. Pollitt, a retired Light Street Presbyterian Church pastor and a community activist who brought affordable housing to South Baltimore, died of a stroke Nov. 16 at the Sinai Hospital Hospice. The former South Baltimore resident was 82.

Born in in Huntingdon, W.Va., he was the son of Robert Pollitt, a businessman, and his wife, Anita Trusty, a homemaker. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Lynchburg College and was a graduate of Lexington Theological Seminary. He later earned a doctorate at McCormick Seminary in Chicago.

Raised in the Disciples of Christ, he told his family he always wanted to go into the ministry. In 1961 he was ordained and served churches in Kentucky.

He decided he wanted to go into urban ministry — and for several years he sold photocopying machines in Louisville, Ky. He the began attending a Presbyterian church.

“He felt as if he were being drawn back in,” said his daughter, Jennifer Pollitt Hill of Odenton. “People were coming to him for counsel. And he felt there was a role the church could play to become more community minded.”

He became a Presbyterian minister and served as an assistant at the Louisville Central Presbyterian Church. He also took a post in Wilkinsburg, Pa., and returned to Louisville, where he served a second time, before being given his own pulpit at Baltimore’s Light Street Presbyterian Church in 1978. He remained there until his retirement in 2001.

When he arrived, the Light Street church congregation had 54 members and had not had a full-time pastor since 1964.

“Baltimore was a different place when we arrived,” said his daughter. “The McCormick building was still operating as a spice plant. There was no Harborplace.”

Mr. Pollitt secured funds from the Baltimore Presbytery to make roofing and electrical repairs and overhaul the 1902 organ.

A 1982 Sun article said he preached to all the social and economic groups in the then-gentrifying neighborhoods around Federal Hill. One of his topics was “How much the poor can teach the rich about generosity.”

News articles said that he perceived that persons renting homes and apartments were being forced out of their neighborhood by higher-income persons who settling in recently renovated properties.

He established the Light Street Housing Corp., which a Sun article described as a “consortium of local religious and community leaders.” The group provided lower-cost homes “for people who can't afford a decent place to live or are being squeezed out by the advancing gentrification of the area.”

The group bought and renovated homes for rental — often renting just a room for $100 a month in the 1980s. A Sun article called the effort, “The home that love built.” One of the properties, Providence House, was a transitional residence for troubled single women.

Mr. Pollitt secured funds from a national body, Presbytery U.S.A, the Towson Presbyterian and the Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Dickeyville, as well as the State of Maryland. He also received volunteer labor from 200 persons, The Sun reported.

"On our previous two projects, we found that the volunteers didn't just come down for kicks. They keep coming back because they want to do more to help, " he said of the workers, the majority of whom came from suburban churches.

"You know, those people often get a bum rap just because they're out in the suburbs, " the pastor said. "But they've done a tremendous job raising money for us and getting their hands dirty on the construction end of things. They're getting to practice what they preach."

Michael Seipp, executive director of the Southwest partnership, said, “David was an activist on multiple fronts. As a pastor he talked about inclusion, inclusion for gays and lesbians. He was a strong housing activist and sought relief for tenants being challenged by rising rents.”

“But most of all,” Mr. Seipp said, “David was a one of the most peaceful men I’ve ever encountered. People with a cause are often didactic. David exuded peace.”

Others recalled his pastoral style.

“David Pollitt was a lover — a lover of justice, a lover of peace, and a lover of humanity. He was skillful at enlisting others to his various causes, and he knew how to build coalitions to achieve his goals for a more equitable society,” said Julie Helms, a retired colleague at the Baltimore Presbytery who is a Light Street Church elder. “He was persistent and persevering in completing every activity he undertook.”

She also said, “He was always good-natured and good-humored, and he enjoyed joking and being silly. He was always deeply engaged in political events. In his Christian ministry, David Pollitt personified the image of a theologian, as described by Karl Barth, as one who holds ‘the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.’ "

He was also a former moderator of the Baltimore Presbytery.

Mr. Pollitt was a board member of the Coalition of Peninsula Organizations and the South Baltimore Homeless Shelter.

In retirement, Mr. Pollitt served on the Legislative/Political Committee of the Resident Council of Charlestown Retirement Community, where he lived after leaving South Baltimore. He also co-founded the Sandtown/Charlestown Connection.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at his church, 809 Light St.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 60 years, the former Ann Garrett, who assisted her husband in his church work; two sons, Jeffery Pollitt of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Martin Pollitt of Abingdon; a brother, Robert Pollitt Jr. of Florida; and six grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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