PHILADELPHIA, July 26 (RNS)--The Rev. William J. Shaw was making his rounds atthe weekly breakfast between Sunday services at White Rock BaptistChurch when 83-year-old Leatha H. Carter caught his attention.

The nine-year member had not received her monthly supply of tithingenvelopes in the mail, and she hoped he could remedy the situation.

"He is the most spiritual, helpful pastor," said Carter, outfittedfor church in a purple dress and matching hat. "He told me, 'Don't worryabout it.'"

The 66-year-old church leader dutifully wrote down her address on apiece of paper to ensure she would get her envelopes. Later thatmorning, dressed in a black clerical robe with three kente-cloth stripeson each sleeve, he announced a change in a selection by the choir,welcomed visitors to the service, and dedicated a baby in a briefceremony at the close of morning worship.

All these things are normal activities for Shaw, who, in additionto pastoring his 1,200-member church, is president of the NationalBaptist Convention, USA, one of the nation's most prominent African-Americandenominations.

"If I had to choose between being president and being pastor, I'd bepastor," said Shaw, who has rarely missed a Sunday in the pulpit sincehis election to the denomination's presidency last September.

After serving as White Rock's pastor for 43 years, Shaw has added achallenging position to his already lengthy resume of church andcommunity service.

As he begins his five-year term as president of the Baptistdenomination, he's hoping to erase the long-term debt on the church'sheadquarters, foster better relations between young and old clergy, andsupport efforts to revamp a church-owned college that's in disrepair.

But perhaps his most public task is to move the denomination fromunder the cloud of a year ago, when former president Henry J. Lyons wasconvicted and sent to prison for swindling millions from corporationswanting to market products to NBCUSA members.

"We have been exploited, the body has been exploited by economicentities that saw us not as a religious body at all but as a marketingpool to which access could be gained through the structure of theorganization," Shaw said in a recent interview after his congregationobserved its annual Men's Day service.

"I think that that is not our reason for being."

The bespectacled man with distinctive white sideburns is trying toshape what he calls a new "culture" within the denomination, based onhis presidential campaign acronym of VISA: vision, integrity, structure,accountability.

In fact, he already anticipates running for a second five-year termas president because he expects it will take at least a decade torevolutionize the structure of the convention.

"It really is going to take time to institutionalize and change aculture," said Shaw, who has declined to take the $100,000 annualpresidential salary and has instead put that money into a scholarshipfund.

He has hired auditing firms to begin the process of determining thepast mistakes and future operational needs of the organization.

"There were lots of places where things needed to be tightened up,"he said of the auditors' findings regarding the 1999 operations. "Someof them are simply procedural--how funds are banked, how records arekept, what verifications are needed."

He has chosen a Dayton, Ohio, pastor as statistician to review thedenomination's membership figures, which came into question duringLyons' Florida trial. The NBCUSA had often been called a church bodywith more than 8 million members, but prosecutors charged the groupmight have only 1 million.

At present, Shaw said, "I wouldn't dare try and give any figures."

The statistician is getting professional advice on how to go aboutdetermining the membership and will begin his work in earnest after theNBCUSA's annual session, to be held Sept. 4-8 in Los Angeles.

The debt on the Baptist World Center in Nashville, Tenn., stands at$2.4 million. Shaw hopes to reduce that figure to zero in September orwithin the denomination's next fiscal year.

"That has to be taken care of because it's been a drain on us," hesaid.

Although some improvements have begun, he said the American BaptistCollege, located near the headquarters, still faces fiscal and physicalproblems.

"They are improving, though the school is not at the level that itought to be," he said. "A major challenge for the school ... is itsphysical rehabilitation because the buildings are not in good repair."

A denominational task force is scheduled to begin developing astrategic plan for the school in September.

Despite all these struggles, Shaw said he is hopeful about thefuture of the NBCUSA.

"It's the overall challenge that I embrace," he said. "It is a lotof work, but the work is not a burden."

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