Sixty years ago Benjamin Harrison Whiting, then 30, resigned as a mail carrier to devote full time to his ministerial duties at the fledging Corinthian Baptist Church at 4th and K streets NW. His friends and family thought he was crazy.
Whiting had started the church in an abandoned storefront only a few months before, and he had withdrawn $90 from his savings account-which totaled $91-to get it off the ground.With a carpenter friend, he had pulled down the store shelves and fashioned them into pews. When Whiting held the first service at the new church, only eight people, many of them relatives, showed up.
"That handful of people can't possibly take care of you," his friends warned him when he left the security of his postal job for the uncertainties of a full-time ministry.
"I'm not counting on any handful of people," Whiting responded. "I'm counting on the good lord."
Six decades later, Whiting's faith has been amply rewarded. At a small and informal dinner with friends, relatives and assistants this week, Whiting celebrated the 90th anniversary of his birth, the 60th anniversary of his ministry and the 52nd anniversary of his pastorate at Friendship Baptish Church, one of the oldest, largest and most influential black Baptish congregations in the city.
In the more than half century since Whiting became pastor of Friendship Church-on Easter Sunday April 17, 1927-church membership has soared from approximately 200 to 2,500, the old church building at First and O streets SW has been remodeled and a new building, constructed in 1965 at a cost of more than $1 million, has been opened at 900 DELAWARE AVE. SW. A year ago, the congregation paid off the mortgage on that property.
One of 14 children, Whiting was named after President Benjamin Harrison and grew up in Southwest Washington on a street known as Willow Tree Alley, which he later recalled as one of the toughest sections of the city.
Educated in D.C. pulic schools, Whiting went to work as a letter carrier at the age of 18 in a section bounded by New York Avenue NW and K, First and Sixth streets. Trained as a minister by the late Rev. A.J.Tyler at Mount Airy Baptist Church, he was licensed to preach in 1918 and ordained in 1919. Shortly afterward, he opened Corinthian Baptist Church.
"i felt like I wanted to start a church and I asked my pastor, A.J.Tyler, if he would have any objections," Whiting recalled. "he said no. In fact, he promised to give any members who wanted to move a letter of transfer."
Eight years later, when Whiting moved to Friendship Baptist Church, the membership at Corinthian had grown to 100. Now located in a former synagogue at 5th and I streets NW, corinthian had become one of the more prominent Baptist churches in town, and Whiting's only surviving brother, Walter, serves on the board of deacons there.
"when I went to Friendship, Walter said he was going to stay at Corinthian," Whiting recalled.
Now one of the senior clergymen in the city, Whiting has served as president of the Baptist Convention of Washington, a vice president of the National Baptist Convevtion, treasurer of the Washington Baptist Seminary and chairman of the board of trustees of the Mount Bethel Baptist Association. In 1975, his own church, Friendship Baptist, celebrated its 100th anniversary.
As he enters his 10th decade, Whiting still maintains a full schedule of preaching, officiating at marriages and baptisms, Tuesday night prayer services and revival services during January.
"he can still say more in two minutes than some preachers can say in two hours," said the Rev. Lorenzo Ford, one of Whiting's two asssistant ministers. CAPTION: Picture, The Rev. Benjamin H. Whiting, 90-year-old pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, center, with his assistants, Lorenzo Ford, left, and William H. Montgomery. By Craig Herndon-The Washington Post