Four months after assuming leadership of the scandal-plagued National Baptist Convention, USA, the Rev. William J. Shaw says he is pushing the denomination toward the reforms and accountability he pledged in his presidential campaign.

Shaw, 66, presided at the denomination's midwinter meeting Jan.18-20 in Nashville, Tenn., a session where about 3,500 NBCUSA membersmet and enacted new restructuring and accounting procedures.

He was officially installed as president during the meeting, but hisposition became effective in September when he was elected to afive-year term. Shaw succeeded the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, who was sent toprison last year after being found guilty of swindling millions fromcorporations wanting to market products to members of the denomination.

Lyons, who also was found guilty of stealing money intended forburned black churches, is serving concurrent state and federal sentencesin Florida.

"The possibilities for the convention to another level in its own life are present psychologically and spiritually," Shaw said in an interview with Religion News Service. "I think there's a real good spirit within the convention."

Asked whether he feels the weight of responsibility to rebuild theNBCUSA's credibility, he said, "I recognize the weight but, at thispoint, I don't feel it."

Shaw ran on a campaign with the acronym VISA, which stands forvision, integrity, structure and accountability. At the midwintermeeting, decisions were made to hire accounting and consulting firms torestructure fiscal operations and other procedures within thedenomination.

He scheduled a March meeting with church leaders to focus on hisvision of a better, more accountable structure.

"We're going to seek to coordinate the program activities much moreeffectively," he said.

Shaw decided to make his goal for accountability personal byforgoing the president's annual salary of $100,000 and instead using itthroughout his term to endow a scholarship fund.

"I wanted to set another tone for why people become involved and toremove myself from any question of involvement for money's sake," Shawsaid.

He said the church where he has served as pastor for 43 years, WhiteRock Baptist Church in Philadelphia, will continue to pay him a salary,but declined to say how much he earns.

The $500,000 endowed scholarship fund will benefit a number ofinstitutions, including the denomination's financially beleagueredAmerican Baptist College, the Nashville school located near churchheadquarters.

"It's been hobbling along for some time," he said, adding theconvention expects to consider a five-year "reinvigoration" plan beingdeveloped by the college's board.

The yield from the endowment fund will provide for books for schoollibraries as well as books for individual students such as those at theAmerican Baptist College and others attending medical school. He decidedto name the scholarships after himself, his parents, a grandson who wasstillborn, two now-deceased NBCUSA ministers who served as his mentors,and his wife, Camellia L. Shaw. The scholarship in his wife's name willbenefit Barber-Scotia College, her alma mater in Concord, N.C.

"Those persons have been meaningful to me and I will use theproceeds that would normally have come to the...president to set upthose funds," he said.

Although major decisions were enacted at the midwinter meeting, Shawsaid he began his work toward restructuring as soon as he was electedpresident.

He initiated a 30-day freeze on spending to determine financialpriorities and also called for a 40-day period of prayer and fasting.

"It was to really signal and call for a time of personal purging andopenness to the spirit of God," said Shaw, who said he abstained fromfood during the day but enjoyed evening meals during the period.

In September, he also appointed a statistician to determine thetotal membership of the denomination, which has been in question sincethe time of Lyons' state trial. Prosecutors charged the actualmembership was far smaller than the 8.5-million-member figuredenominational officials have claimed.

Part of the difficulty in determining the membership is deciding atwhich level members should be counted in a structure where there arecurrently congregations, local associations and state conventions, hesaid.

"I still believe it is the largest body of African-Americans in thecountry, but I'm not going to use figures--not at this point," Shawsaid.

At its Feb. 24-25 meeting the board will look again at the goal setat the midwinter meeting to pay off by September the $2.8 million debton the denomination's headquarters building in Nashville.

As he works on the fiscal structures of the denomination, Shaw alsois striving to rebuild good relations among members who differed in thepast.

He selected three of the 10 candidates who ran against him to givesermons during the midwinter gathering--the Rev. W. FranklynRichardson of Mount Vernon, N.Y.; the Rev. E.V. Hill of Los Angeles andthe Rev. A. Russell Awkard of Louisville, Ky.

"That was my choice to symbolize healing," he said. "What we'recalling for is a unified convention."