BlackandChristian.com is pleased to introduce you to the Rev. Dr. William H. Curtis, senior pastor of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church located in urban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His sermon, "Why Not Me," appears as the Pulpit feature this month.
I spend many hours on the Internet searching for inspirational resources
to bring to BlackandChristian.com. One Saturday afternoon last year in
August, I was surfing the net and came across the website of Mt. Ararat
Baptist Church. I like to listen to sermons and saw that the website said, "Hear Rev. Curtis preach...", so I clicked. Well, needless to
say, for the next half hour, I didn't move. Little did I know that Pastor
Curtis would be in Chicago a few weeks later, preaching the Youth Revival
at Trinity United Church of Christ. His powerful and anointed preaching
stirred the soul. Recently, I asked Rev. Curtis to share with the
BlackandChristian.com family, a few of his thoughts on the pulpit, the
and the academy.
Here, in an exclusive Q & A interview for BlackandChristian.com, are his answers.
Rev. Dr. William H. Curtis
BNC--Africans in enslavement have written in slave narratives about their conversion experience. Describe your conversion experience.
CURTIS--My conversion experience took place early in my life. While a freshman in high school, I was invited to participate in an after school program that I realized after consenting, was a gospel choir. The instructor of that choir who had the music position for the school, encouraged me to not only participate but to assist in leading the efforts of the choir and while doing so, he introduced me to Christ and provided my first encounter with the Word. His example of Christian stewardship and evangelism still inspires me today to give to God all that I have in ministry and life.
BNC--Why are you Baptist?
CURTIS--I am Baptist because it is the closest to New Testament practice. The autonomy of the local church to move Spirit led is certainly something that I wanted to maintain in life and ministry.
BNC--Martin Luther King was a Baptist preacher, teacher, scholar--how influential has he been in your life? I like to say that King stood on big shoulders, his father, grandfather--whose shoulders do you stand on?
CURTIS--Dr. King has been influential in my life in several ways. His love for the development of the mind and his pursuit for pulpit excellence, are examples for ministry today. His passion for the betterment of the culture and his embrace of all races while seeking to empower his own has been an inspiration to me. His ability to affect government and help to author legislation that equals the human landscape are things I use as inspiration for leading Ararat in Pittsburgh. I stand on those shoulders and others, Dr. Harold Carter, New Shiloh Baptist Church, Baltimore (Ed. a BlackandChristian.com featured church this month); Dr. William A. Jones, Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY. Dr. Gardner Taylor, retired pastor of the Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY also. So many others who blazed trails of preaching prowess and social advocacy and ministry integrity. To all of those I am grateful.
BNC--What are your ministry goals?
CURTIS--The goal of this ministry is to evangelize the lost, equip the saints and edify the body. That's done through worship, work, and witness.
BNC--Describe your congregation.
CURTIS--Mt. Ararat is a unique congregation. We would probably be considered charismatic in our worship and yet still able to embrace the traditions of the African American Baptist Church. The church is made up of a people from every corner of the city and surrounding suburbs, every economic status, every educational background. All the ages are represented in large number and recently, we are even seeing an influx of whites into the congregation. Ararat seeks to provide holistic ministry, ministering to the whole human. The church trusts leadership and the leadership loves the engagement of the congregation. It truly is every pastor's dream church and is poised for creative and anointed ministry in a challenging century.
BNC--Mt. Ararat recently opened the Mt. Ararat Theological Academy? What is its purpose?
CURTIS--The Theological Academy is designed to give the members of our church more in depth study into the word of God and to create a population of biblically literate Christians who are equipped to create the kingdom of God on earth.
BNC--In the area of Christian Education, what types of courses do you teach and offer to the congregation?
CURTIS--We have merged Christian Education into our Theological Academy. Courses in the academy range from basic bible to systematic theology. It is designed to nurture the child of God at whatever level they enter and to ensure that before the three year completion of the program they are as close to seminary trained as one can be without real seminary exposure.
BNC--You have earned a Doctorate in Ministry from United Theological Seminary. What was your seminary experience like and what advice do you have for seminarians?
CURTIS--My seminary experience was both academically rewarding and personally rewarding. I went to seminary really still wrestling with what I believed versus believing what I had been told. Seminary allowed me an environment to bring some assurance to the beliefs I needed and the freedom to abandon those that were deposited that would hinder me spiritually later. I forged life long friendships and developed in the seminary experience a love for the development of the mind. My love for reading and for exploring autobiographies were developed during my seminary years.
BNC--What was your thesis and how and why did you choose that particular topic?
CURTIS--My doctoral thesis was, "The Development of a Christian Social Ethic in Young Adult African American Clergy". That was born as a result of the context of my first Pastorate in York, Pennsylvania where God sent a number of young adult African American male clergy to that church who upon entering ministry had little social ethic.
BNC--What was the best paper you ever wrote as a student and why was it good?
CURTIS--My New Testament exegetical papers were my best papers I think because God has gifted me with an eye for the text. Dr. Cain Hope Felder at Howard University School of Divinity encouraged me to see as a strength in my life and to maximize it. I am grateful to him for that because if there is any strength to my preaching it is the exegesis (the ability to lift truth from the text).
BNC--What advice would you give young pastors going into their first pastorate?
CURTIS--Young pastors entering their first pastorate should know above all things that they are called to be great Christians before they are obligated to preach great sermons. Congregations need their love and nurturing more than anything else. In addition, as quick as one can, he or she ought to ask God to anoint not only their ministries but their personalities so that the pew is not damaged by the dysfunction of the pulpit. Benjamin Mays, I think expresses the strength of ministry when he says, "we are never obligated to preach great sermons, but we are obligated to wrestle with great ideas." Finally, I would encourage a young pastor to find balance in life, trust God for the growth and success in ministry and to know that the favor of God should be handled with extreme care.
BNC--Who are your ministry mentors--people that you talk to and share ideas with?
CURTIS--There are several persons who provide mentoring to me. Dr. Walter Thomas, my pastor with whom I have a great ministry relationship of over twenty years. Dr. Charles Booth, who has become a wise counsel and whose preaching gift has blessed my life. Dr. Ralph West, who really God sent to be a big brother to me. He represents the total package when it comes to ministry and preaching. Dr. Frank Reid, whose pursuit of personal integrity deposits richly into my life. These four I have become spiritually accountable to and they provide places of accountability for me spiritually and professionally.
BNC--What is the best sermon you ever heard?
CURTIS--My Pastor, Dr. Thomas, preached a sermon some years ago entitled, "My Secret Desire". It was really a sermon about intimacy with God and the pursuit of his holiness. It still impacts me thinking about it now. It by far is one of the greatest sermons I have ever heard and experienced.
BNC--What is your favorite sermon to preach and why?
CURTIS--My favorite sermon to preach is one developed a few months back entitled, "My Work Is Too Great." It is one of the sermons that ministered to me in its development and proclamation. Every sermon ought not to be preached until it blesses the one delivering it, however this sermon really liberated me from some issues that were hindering my ability to find joy in my work.
BNC--You have preached a number of sermons from the Acts of the Apostles? Why?
CURTIS--I preached from Acts for a long time because I wanted the early church and its development to be the way in which we shaped a lot of what needed to be transformed at the church about how we do what we do and why we do what we do.
BNC--How has Mt. Ararat made a difference in the Pittsburgh community?
CURTIS--Ararat has made a difference in this community for over 96 years. Three years ago, the church agreed in prayer to begin the, "Community Tithing Program." Each year, ten percent of the churches income is given to the community in the form of grants that help non-profit organizations. We are very proud of this program and its only one example of the ways the church helps the community.
BNC--How do you or do you, incorporate Black History into sermons and into the church?
CURTIS--I really do believe that the integrity of the African American pulpit includes the synergy between biblical witness and African American history. The beauty and strength of our preaching is that it is contextual. You cannot divorce the experience that our history gives from the witness of the biblical text. In fact, liberation theology teaches that the theologian can never engage the task of seeking understanding of the faith without embracing first the context of the one doing the theology.
BNC--What does it mean to be Black and Christian in the 21st Century?
CURTIS--Black and Christian in the 21st century means to love God and worship Him, not divorcing oneself from the context of racism and classism that demands our social advocacy and our pursuit of racial harmony.
Pastor Curtis is a native of Baltimore, Maryland. He accepted the call to ministry at the age of 15. He possesses a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and Philosophy, a Master of Divinity Degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. In 1997, Rev. Curtis was called to the Mt. Ararat Baptist Church. Since his arrival, the church has grown both physically and spiritually. His ministry has led to several landmark events at Ararat, including the formation of a community development corporation to minister to the greater Pittsburgh area.
Rev. Curtis has emerged as one of the well-known, spirit-filled preachers of today. His spiritual wisdom and influence has earned him participation in a national "think tank" with former President Bill Clinton, inclusion in the book titled, "Outstanding Black Sermons, Volume Four," edited by Rev. Dr. Walter S. Thomas, and the opportunity to minister in a multiplicity of political and community forums around the country.
In 2001, he founded William H. Curtis Ministries, Inc., in an effort to expand his ministry throughout the United States and abroad. Rev. Curtis' spiritual burden to bring lost souls to Christ and encourage maturation and intimacy with God drives his commitment to spreading the gospel whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Rev. Curtis is married to Christine Y. Curtis and they are the proud parents on one daughter, Houston.
Special thanks to Kim Moses for helping to arrange this interview.
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