A Washington minister on trial in a Silver Spring Methodist church on sexual harassment charges was praised yesterday by several United Methodist Church ministers and lay members for his energy and commitment to the area's poor.

But while praising the Rev. John P. Carter, several of the witnesses said they knew nothing of the specific harassment charges brought against him by five women.

Other testimony from witnesses in the fourth day of this highly unusual church proceeding focused primarily on the character and job performance of the five women.

In testimony earlier this week, the women -- all of whom worked or were being interviewed for jobs in United Methodist Church projects that Carter supervised -- said that the 36-year-old minister made unwanted verbal and physical sexual advances toward them.

Once they refused his advances, the women told the proceeding, Carter dropped his support for their work or actively worked against them. Carter has denied the charges. No criminal charges have been filed.

Carter's counsel, the Rev. Irvin Lockman, attempted yesterday to show that Carter -- and others -- had problems with the ability of Elaine De Coligny, one of Carter's accusers, to do her job.

James A. King, a former official with the Commission on Religion and Race for the Baltimore Annual Conference, testified yesterday that he attended several workshops on racism run by De Coligny and found her "ineffective and not knowledgeable of things she was expected to do."

Evelyn Fitzgerald, a current officer of the Commission on Religion and Race, testified that De Coligny did not have a sufficient knowledge of racism in the Baltimore conference to do her job well.

De Coligny, 22, worked with Carter at Mountaintop Ministry, a church-run organization in Baltimore overseeing projects on health, employment training and community development. De Coligny has testified that after she turned down Carter's advances, he tried to sabotage her job by, among other things, holding up her paychecks.

When asked by a reporter about the statements yesterday, De Coligny said she had expected them.

Lockman also questioned witnesses about Janece Patterson, another of the accusers. Patterson testified earlier this week that Carter had made advances to her in a furnace room of the Washington building where they worked.

The Rev. John Shirky, who works for the Center for Community Development, said that on a March 1985 visit to Mountaintop Ministry he met Patterson and she seemed "openly friendly, beyond what was necessary for an acquaintance."

Shirky, King and Fitzgerald acknowledged under cross examination by the women's counsel, the Rev. Miriam Jackson, that they had no direct knowledge of the alleged incidents of harassment with which Carter is charged.

Jackson told the 13-member trial court that "the sole factual question before you is whether [Carter] engaged in [inappropriate] conduct, not whether he was an effective minister or good staff member."

Yet Lockman brought forward about a dozen witnesses, including King, who testified about Carter's work. King said he has known Carter for "four or five years" and that over that time, has evaluated several projects by Carter.

"To my pleasant surprise I found a young, energetic minister" involved in programs for economic development, rent control and clean-up campaigns, King said. Carter's character, he said, is "excellent . . . [there are] no cases where I would be willing to say otherwise."