Dr. William Howard Talks Ministry, Retirement and Newark’s Future

Throughout half a century of social justice movements from the civil rights marches and voter registration drives of the 1960s, the global struggle for human rights in the ’70s and ’80s, he was there with Mandela and Tutu. And then in Newark where in 2000 he took over as pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church. Dr. William Howard is newly retired and spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Williams: Thank you for being here.

Howard: Thank you.

Williams: You’ve been all over the world but you say that being pastor of Bethany was your hardest job ever. Why?

Howard: Well, I saw that in print. It was the hardest job for me to leave. That’s what I said.

Williams: Oh I see.

Howard: But it was the most intriguing and the most demanding of all of my faculties I would say. Every dimension of my personality was called upon.

Williams: You were really engaged with the city of Newark. What did you learn about it?

Howard: Well, I came to Newark in part because I felt I was called but I came also out of curiosity. Everyone talked about Newark as the Renaissance City. By my early 50s I had never pastored a congregation. I had many theories about how congregations should operate. On a dare and a little bit of a shame I accepted to come and to test the reality of my theories. It is a very seductive place. You come and become engaged, you see the needs and if you are driven by the needs and reasonably committed it produces a reputable ministry.

Williams: If you could do it in a nut shell, what are your theories on how a congregation be led?

Howard: For one thing I knew all the talk about advocating the African-American church as the vanguard for social change often did not comport with my experience. Many people who promoted that notion did not seem to value what that institution actually does. So, as a person with a long list of activities related to social justice I came to see the urgency of the community function, the healing function.

Williams: How much does service in the community have to do with this? Is that the essence of it?

Howard: If you serve in tandem with some kind of theological or faith conviction it’s very rewarding. But many churches are led by people who wanted to focus almost entirely on social engagement to the neglect of the pastoral function. I will say that the great nexus I discovered was the meaning that the fulfillment people found in their service to others, that’s a great match. Many of the things we were able to do at Bethany, and I trust will continue, were in that stream.

Williams: The president of the United States always talks about the arch of history bending towards justice. What’s the next big challenge?

Howard: That’s a great quote by Martin Luther King by the way. I think economic development that touches current Newark residents is the key to the continuing revitalization of the city. Almost everything we say in a negative vein about Newark is related to the flight of capital from Newark, which began after the second world war. How do we to rebuild the economic machinery in Newark while including people who’ve been alienated from work for more than a generation?

Williams: And in your retirement I trust you are going to still be working on that here in Newark.

Howard: I was working on it before I came so you can be sure that I’ll continue to focus on it.

Williams: Dr. William Howard, thank you.

Howard: Thank you.