GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (RNS)-- Some would describe stepping into thepolitical limelight to introduce the future president of the UnitedStates on nationwide television as their life's biggest moment.

But for the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, accepting the invitation tointroduce then-Gov. George W. Bush at the Republican National Conventionlast summer was only one of several defining moments, along with themore prosaic -- but, for Caldwell, central -- priorities of personalfaith and family.

Pastor of the 13,400-member Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Caldwell spoke about his life's pivotal choices Jan. 31 toan international audience at the Robert H. Schuller Institute forSuccessful Church Leadership held here at Schuller's Crystal Cathedral.The predominantly African-American Windsor Village, which Caldwellbegan serving as pastor in 1982, is now the largest United Methodistcongregation in the United States, according to the United MethodistNews Service.

Caldwell also pastors St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston.He took over the pastorate of the then-moribund inner-city church in1992 on top of his Windsor Village duties.A key link between the Houston pastor and the White House is Bush'spassion for "faith-based" community development, which puts thefinancial muscle of government behind social programs directed byreligious organizations. Windsor Village is a beehive of economic activity, sponsoring, among other outreaches, the Pyramid Community Development Corporation that operates the 104,000-square-foot Power Center, a multipurpose facility including a bank, clinic, business suites, commercial lease-space, andan employment training outreach.

Another Windsor Village program, Corinthian Pointe, is a plannedresidential community of 450 homes. With a family-life center, prayercenter, tennis center, commercial park, and catfish ponds, the projectbears a price tag of $82 million, according to Windsor Villagespokesperson Irv White.

"We are basically doing what he's talking about," Caldwell said ofthe president's recently announced faith-based initiatives. "That wasthe initial catalyst that kind of brought us together," Caldwell said, adding he met Bush about 51/2 years ago, a few days after the governor had read about Caldwell's development programs.

While Windsor Village's nonprofit organizations received no statefunds and technically do not qualify as official examples ofTexas-sponsored faith-based programs, Caldwell said, "the mere fact thatthe president champions the cause ... makes our work a lot easier." Calling for "converting our creeds into deeds," Caldwell stressed what he believes is a cover-to-cover biblical mandate to approachfinances wisely. Citing the Genesis imperative "to till the garden and guard it," he said, "Over half the parables told by Jesus in the NewTestament deal with money." For the church, economic development activities "are main courses,"Caldwell said, "not dessert or appetizers. We really have strived totake the sanctuary to the streets."

James E. Kirby, professor of church history at Perkins School ofTheology at Southern Methodist University, placed Caldwell's economicoutreach squarely in the stream of Methodism's historic interest inserving the underprivileged.

Recalling that Goodwill Industries had their start in Methodistcircles, Perkins' bishop-in-residence emeritus John Wesley Hardtsuggested viewing Caldwell as a translator of the "pragmatic" socialvision of the Wesleyan tradition for the "more affluent age" of the 21stcentury.

Theology shows up a couple of degrees later than business onCaldwell's resume. Majoring in economics as an undergraduate, Caldwellearned a master of business administration degree from the University ofPennsylvania's prestigious Wharton School in 1977. He was working at abond trading firm in Houston when ministry began to tug at his heart.

"I was poised and polished and a picture of professionalperfection," Caldwell writes in his recent book, "The Gospel of GoodSuccess." "I had all the fast-track credentials: that Wharton MBA andone year as a Wall Street broker and investment banker." But Caldwell left all that to study at Perkins and graduated in1981.

Retired Bishop J. Woodrow Hearn, who presided over the Texas AnnualConference of the United Methodist Church from 1992 to 2000, underscoredthe unique potential in Caldwell's combination of business acumen withpastoral gifts. "The mixing of those two is to his advantage," Hearn said. WhileCaldwell's financial background helps him relate to key players in thelocal economy, "Kirbyjon is an extremely effective minister," Hearnobserved.

Describing himself as Bush's "spiritual supporter," Caldwellprovided the benediction at the presidential inauguration in January inaddition to introducing Bush at last summer's convention. Caldwell said there was a nuance to serving as "supporter" inmatters of faith, pointing out Bush had not asked him to be hisspiritual "adviser." "I share with the president that I'll be praying for him everyday," Caldwell said. "I pray for his safety, I pray for his marriage, and for his children," he said, adding he also asked God for a "spirit ofdiscernment and wisdom" for the new leader.

But the support could extend beyond prayer.

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