A COUPLE of weeks ago, Thaddeus Garrett Jr., who on Sundays exchanges his weekday title of domestic policy adviser to George Bush for that of associate pastor of the Wesley Temple A.M.E. Zion Church in Akron, Ohio, was about to serve communion. It was almost 1 p.m. An usher came up to the pulpit, beckoning to Garrett that he had a phone call from the vice president. "Well, one's loyalties are tested," laughs Garrett. His decision was quick; he consecrated the communion and then took the phone call.

"The vice president was very humorous, he apologized. Then he said, 'Well, I have already been to church.' He's an Episcopolian, and he continued, 'I am already eating lunch.' And I said, 'Sir, you have to understand that black people stay in church all day Sunday.'"

When George Bush was drawing up his list of potential staffers, he sought out the advice of an old friend, Arthur Fletcher, a political consultant and a former assistant secretary of labor under Richard Nixon. "I said you go someone here who has been in the vice president's office, who is a minister and can mobilize constituents through that network, who has run a political campaign and has worked on the Hill," recalls Fletcher. The fact that Garrett is black didn't come up. Says Fletcher, "George is interested in having people work the whole piece."

In many ways, the swift ascent of Thad Garrett, 32, places him before the labyrinth of the tender questions of loyalty. The current battle lines might be particularly fearsome ones for Garrett, working on what he likes to call "a portfolio of every single domestic issue," for an administration that's unblinkingly pruning much of that terrain.

Here we have a minister called on to preach the message of patience, and an adviser who has to bring a conservative administration's message of restraint and economic austerity to the urban, minority and poor constituents who fill his pews and appointment calendar. Here we have a representative of the new black professional class who has moved beyond the categorization of minority expert but, because of "my skin color," knows he will be called on for his opinion on racial issues. For example, Garrett works on the interagency Budget Working Group but he's also the White House's contact on the Atlanta children murders.

And here we have a new black leader, a category his position at the White House automatically puts him in, who has to deal with the black leadership's current debate over its own philosophy, direction and accountability. On one hand are the highly visible civil rights organization officials, vying with the generally progressive Republican faithfuls, and academic liberals trying to forge a third party; on the other hand are the crop of neoconservatives who are loudly debating their way onto the editorial pages. In this grouping, Garrett, who has been nurtured by the progressive side of the Republican party, is nonaligned. He describes his politics as pragmatic. "I am a realist who knows that today the times call for a new direction in government that means a scaling down of government's role in the lives of the people."

With all these tugs, many wonder where Garrett will throw his lot, and whether his own quest for impact will make him an apologist or an activist. "He's a talented man in a tough job. And somebody has got to be there," says Vernon Jordan, president of the National Urban League, who has met with the vice president and his adviser. "He's not an apologist or an accomodationist. He understands the new reality and is ready to ask the hard questions."

Clarence Mitchell, the Maryland attorney whose career is synonymous with civil rights, says, "He always seemed mindful of his responsibility with black matters." Whether they agree with the administration or not, Garrett is perceived as an informed insider. When Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) needed support to stop a proposed move of a Conrail diesel yard from his district, he called Garrett.

Thus far the Bush insiders have assessed Garrett as "broad-gauged," one who speaks up but gets along. When his motivations are questioned, Garrett's raspy tenor signals an impatient anger, the only wrinkle in this model of executive efficiency.His looks complement his two-page resume. His opaque eyeglasses are the only departure from a precise appearance -- three-piece, well-tailored suits on a frame pumped lean by weights. One loyalty question is answered quickly. "If I did not believe in Ronald Reagan and George Bush, I would not be here. I really became angry over some of the unwarranted attacks on Ronald Reagan by black leaders during the campaign. Ronald Reagan is not a racist," says Garrett.

But Thad Garrett's story is also one of a rapidly rising young man who, in more than a decade of Washington jobs, has worked closely with power symbols and inherited some of their aggressive push. "He has a politician's ego," says lawyer Richard Parsons, a colleague from the Ford-Rockefeller White House. "He relates to the power and prestige of high political office. I call it psychic income; some of us go for the bucks.Thad [goes for] the enjoyment of being in office."

Garrett's political pyramid has been built on a successful series of jobs -- starting in 1967 as a summer intern for former representative William Ayres (R-Ohio), then taking a carefully calculated risk in 1971 to work for a feisty urban feminist, Democrat Shirley Chisholm. After four years with Chisholm, he became minority adviser to vice president Nelson Rockefeller. Concurrent with his Washington jobs, Garrett served six years on the Ohio State Board of Education, commuting to the monthly board meetings. In 1976, he received an interim, and controversial appointment to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which was followed by a beleaguered year as a vice president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Before taking his present post, he was running his own import-export business. In a short career that has had occasional bad publicity, Garrett has shown he is a survivor.

His experiences have fashioned a sharp, adaptable person, who is regarded both as delivery-oriented and detached, and at times, abruptly clinical. The demands of his new job, he feels, might add to his image as a tightlywound operative. "This job has made me more disciplined, which some people would say is impossible, because I am already stuffy," he says, without a trace of remorse. Some feel that he wants to be significant, rather than to make a significant contribution. Some feel that he is too safe, too much of a loyalist. He is very private; once in the early 1970s when he was hospitalized, he didn't tell his mother. And, even though he has the ultimate of the urban holdings, a condominium near Embassy Row, he also wants the trappings of a rugged individualist, and he has them -- a huse in the Rocky Mountains, where he rides horses in his Reaganesque jeans and boots. But his adaptability as a political technician has been his greatest selling point. With friends who have worked for Jimmy Carter and John Anderson, he can have a lively, boisterous debate, with no damage to the relationship. He can mediate, work out a compromise, because he isn't locked into a fixed position. But it isn't political schizophrenia. Says Constance Newman, a close friend and a former Republican appointee. "He knows who he is. He is not going to be shaken up by critics or the Republicans. He sure is secure.

His loyalties were shaped by heritage and opportunity. Garrett is a fourth-generation Republican, an heir to the foresight and commitment of his great-grandfather, Augustus Fite, the first black to serve on the Republican Central Committee in Nashville, a century ago. "Some children at an early age can tell you who all the movie stars are, all the baseball players, all the football players. I could, at seven years of age, tell you who all the U.S. senators and governors were. I had all their pictures on my wall," says Garrett, sitting in his minimallylit office. The framed pictures these days are of Reagan, Bush, foreign leaders, his family, actess Esther Rolle and entertainer Diahann Carroll, whose wedding to the late journalist Robert DeLeon, Garrett performed.

His sister, Connie Lykes, a secretary for Rep. Anthony Beilenson (R-Calif.), confirms his childhood preferences. "He has always been politically excited. He has always enjoyed the trappings, the ink pens in his pocket, the briefcase, the political buttons." They grew up in a blue-collar predominatly Jewish neighborhood in Akron, the children of a Goodyear assembly-line worker and a school librarian.

In the fifth grade, Garrett participated in his school's dramatization of Hayden's Minuet, part of Akron's May Day Festival. Like the other youngsters, he dressed up in a colonial-style outfit, with buckled shoes, white stockings and white wig, but he was the only black. When his mother heard a woman exressing dismay that a colored boy was dancing on stage, she turned around and said, "Not only is he a colored boy but he's my son." The next year he was Nelson Rockefeller's campaign manager in a mock classroom election.

But what he remembers best of that childhood are the 1952 convention speech of Dwight Eisenhower and that Sunday afternoons he spent imitating the minister in a bedroom mirror. Looking back, he feels he was drawn into the ministry by its power as a catalyst for change and by the power of its words. "I am a very emotional person; that manifests itself in my preaching," says Garrett.

Even as he played at preaching and politics, he knew he would have to reconcile those loyalties. "I looked at Adam Clayton Powell and other famous ministers who were politicians. I didn't really want to be like them, because they were not my style, to be quite frank about it," says Garrett. In 1966 the 18-year-old Garrett was elected youth governor of the Ohio YMCA and came to Washington on his first airplane ride. To hear him talk of it, you would have thought he found the golden gates, but he did meet his political-maker pinups. The next year he was an education student and debating whiz at the University of Akron, he returned as an intern for Ayres and began to model his own attitues and directions on the examples of Edward Brooks, Charles Percy and Mark Hatfield. "Most of the interns were there to enjoy the prestige, but Thad realized he could learn the system," says Ayres. "Also, that was the time of the Vietnam war, and Thas wasn't sold on the war. He decided to go to divinity school right then, instead of waiting like, just like David Stockman."

During that time, people who met him got a sense that he was going places, that he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.) remembers attending a Lincoln Day dinner that Garrett had arranged. "It was the best-run dinner I have ever been, too. I have seldom run into someone so efficient," says Packwod, one of Garrett's mentors. "You just knew he wasn't going to sit still."

After a year of teaching in Ohio, the opportunity for several Washington jobs developed. He had to choose among an administration job with Samuel Jackson, then assistant secretary of HUD; a spot at the Republican National Committee; a lobbying job with ITT, or a job in Chisholm's office. Instinctively he wanted to go for the best, most useful experience but he deliberated and checked. "First of all, Chisholm is a Democrat and I was a staunch Republican who had aspirations for public office in the state of Ohio," he says. He phoned around and received the approval of the local Republican leaders.

At that time in the early 1970s, the Congressional Black Caucus was just fashioning its purposes and agenda. Garrett was an advocate of expansion in nontraditional issues. He urged the members to listen to the Arab point of view. He tought that was not only reasonable but a tradable issue on the floor. He pushed that not because he was anit-Israel, but becuse he wanted the caucus to boraden," says George Daly, a member of the Civil Aeronautics Board who was a congressional aide at the time.

In 1972 Chisholm conducted a spirited, shoestring campaign for the presidency. Garrett found himself at the heated center in one of the most interesting political chapters of the 70s. Most of the political pros didn't understand what she was tring to do, most of the black politicians dismissed the race as a woman's whim. Garrett didn't back off, believing in the cause, the candidate and the campaign. "Thad was ferociously protective of me," says Chisholm.

During his year and a half with Rockefeller he delivered his duties as minority and urban adviser. During that time, the extension of the Voting Rights Act was hung up in a parliamentary procedure. Civil rights lobbyist Yvonne Price remembers calling Garrett. "We needed the vice president to work in our behalf on the Hill. Many times during that period if Thad hadn't been there we wouldn't have made it," says Price.

Samuel Cornelius, a local businessman who served as deputy director of the Office of Minority Business Enterprise, recalls Garrett going to bat to save a proposed $2 million cut. "He got the data together to show how well the program was doing, then picked up the phone and argued for us," says Cornelius.

In the spring of 1975, Garrett visited several urban areas as part of a federal task force and saw the rationale for some of his developing self-help economic theories. "I am a firm beliver in the old Chinese proverb, 'If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach a man how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.' Now in the enterprise zone concept, you will have job training apprenticeship programs. We must get out people on the road to economic and social recovery that will allow us to be independent of the federal programs," says Garrett.

Also during this time, his approaches became more refined. "When he first came to the White House his weakness was unseasoned judgement. He had spent too many years being outraged, screaming as one of a thousand Hill aides," says Richard Parsons. "But now he is less volatile, less quick to leap, more deliberate and cautious, and that makes you effective."

His brief interlude at the consumer commission toughened him. He was accused of using the Rockefeller name to get the appointment, his nomination was opposed by consumer groups and he was accused of having used unauthorized newspaper endorsements during a 1974 try for the Ohio legislature. Despite that cloud, he was elected vice-chairman of the commission. He was again valued for his placement in a nontraditional field. When Ed Brooke's office needed a clarification on an important policy issue, it was Garrett they turned to.

When he was appointed to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Garrett was again accused of exploiting the Rockefeller connection and was charged, in an anonymous letter to Congress, with misrepresenting his commission power and abusing travel privileges. After Garrett answered all the charges, the issue was dropped.

Garrett, according to his friends, was extremely distressed at the charges, blaming jealousies caused by a young black's rise in Washington. "You take your lumps," he says now. "Surely if there had been something to it, something would have come of it. But you have to endure this. I must tell you that during that experience I wanted to walk away from politics." But he didn't. "It soured me for a certain time. One has to ask oneself about the lies, the innuendo -- is it worth it? I just shook my head. There is an old hymn, 'Be not dismayed whate'er the tide, God will take care of you; All that you need He will provide, God will take care of you,'" says Garrett, his temporary anger at recalling these episodes tempered by speaking the words of the hymn. "You have to toughen up; that was the threshold for me."

The lack of visible delivery at CPB, where he was vice president for human resources, only renewed questions about his loyalty and effectiveness. Many of the CPB people from that time feel the mandate of the job did not have the corporation's support but served as a shield against congressional criticism of exclusion of minority and women's input. "Garrett was there when satellites had the emphasis instead of people," said Ed Mansfield, one of his staffers. "It was a time of psychological and political warfare."

Some felt his typical energies were misplaced, making him the apologist instead of the activist. "He was a joke. His inaction on several issues was detrimental," says one co-worker.

Pluria Marshall, the head of the Black Media Coalition, disagrees, feeling Garrett was working against a stonewall of insensitivity. "They weren't committed," says Marshall. "When he got his feet wet, he was leaving. The folks simply refused to give him power." His office produced a report on minorities and women, called "A Formula for Change," that includes a statement by CPB, which states that the findings are "not necessarily" the views of CPB and which some people see as a disclaimer.

"They didn't want to see a young black vice president making that salary," says Garrett, describing the resentment and disclaiming that he was in over his head or used as window dressing. This frustrating period of less than a year was followed by two years of private business as a foreign agent and lobbyist for the Tourist Board of Taiwan, Avon Products and other corporations.

But how does he line up with the vocal neoconservative blacks? The difference, Garrett allies point out, is that Thomas Sowell, a California-based economist who is the conservative movement's spokesman, is an academic whose view is not grounded in reality. Garrett, they say, is a fiscal conservative whose departure points are based on firsthand knowledge of social ills. "I welcome them and their views," says Garrett, encasing his view in an argument about the diversity of black people. While he agrees with them that busing is an artificial tool, he believes affirmative action has worked, a view they don't hold.

Yet, for Garrett, all this debate takes a back seat to the pulpit. "My happiest day is in the pulpit. I am free to say what I want to say. I love the freedom of motion of preaching," says Garrett, who doesn't receive a stipend for his Akron church post. The ultimate test for his loyalties will come when public service, which he describes as missionary work, no longer has a rung for him.

"It is the most important thing in my life. These things will come and go, survive or fail. But preaching is my profession," says Garrett. But what about the lure of Congress? "You must believe me," he says realizing no one does, "after this I am not interested in pursuing any other political job." Then what about the lure of the bishop's throne? "There is nothing further from my mind. If you think this is bad, you should know church politics. I have always liked the apostle Paul, who was the preacher. That's my example," says Garrett.

Dinner-table conversations with Garrett are most likely about religion. When he worked for Rockefeller, they would debate the accuracy of a Biblical quote. On his own nonpreaching Sundays, he likes to sit in the back of Washington's Metropolitan Baptist Church and listen to the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks. He describes the lack of time to be a pastor as a "hurt."

Friends who belong to predominantly white congregations hear a lecture on the strength of the black church. It's a theme of his sermons, like the one he delivered in a Richmond church where he talked of the strength of revivals, mentioned the dictators in Poland trying to snuff out the church and the Ku Klux Klan's attack on black churches -- "You let the man take everything else away from you and what else do you have? The word of God shall stand forever."

Over the murmurs of "have mercy, son" from the deacons and the cries of babies, his cadence steadily stretching to a shout, he said, "You see my friends, there should never be an energy crisis in God's church . . . God is perfect, he neither requires demunition or addition, and what that means is you don't have to subtract from it, you don't have to add to it, you don't have to do anything to it, you don't have to dress it up, you don't have to fix it, you don't have to put cosmetics over it, you don't have to put a sheet over it."

Around the White House, he finds some comfort in his favorite hymns. "'It Is Well With My Soul,' that's one that keeps me going," he says. "'When peace, like a river, attended my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.' When you come out of a heated political meeting, you don't think anything is well; that song is to me what cigarettes are to other people, a relief."